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Seven Men 

by Max Beerbohm 




833^ 
1310 



By the same Author 



Zuleika Dobson 

A NOVEL 

"He has achieved a masterpiece. 
He has written a book in which wit 
and invention never flag, a book tfrat 
is sheer delight from cover to cover." 
-—Daily Mail. 



Fifty Caricatures 

"'Max' would not be the best of 
all caricaturists if his caricatures 
were not beautiful, and it is because 
they are beautiful with a beauty 
never irrelevant that they give us so 
much delight ... his art would be 
spoilt by any taint of personal malice, 
and that we never find in it." 

The Times. 



A Christmas Garland 

This book contains the most bril- 
liant of Max Beerbohm's exercises in 
the gentle art of parody. The subjects 
include Henry James, Rudyard Kip- 
ling, A. C. Benson, H. G. Wells, G. K. 
Chesterton, ThomaB Hardy, Frank 
Harris, Arnold Bennett, John Gals- 
worthy, G. S. Street, Joseph Conrad, 
Edmund Gosse, Hilaire Belloc, G. B. 
Shaw, Maurice Hewlett, George 
Moore, and George Meredith. 











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SEVEN MEN 



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By the same Author 

THE WORKS OP MAX BEERBOHM 

MORE 

YET AGAIN 

A CHRISTMAS GARLAND 

THE HAPPY HYPOCRITE 

ZULEIKA DOBSON 

CARICATURES OP TWENTY-PIVE 

GENTLEMEN 
THE POET'S CORNER 
THE SECOND CHILDHOOD OP JOHN 

BULL 
A BOOK OP CARICATURES 
PIPTY CARICATURES 



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SEVEN MEN 



BY 



MAX BEEKBOHM 




LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN 



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CONTENTS 

PAdB 

ENOCH SOAMES 1 

HILARY MALTBY and 

STEPHEN BRAXTON 49 

JAMES PETHEL 105 

A. V, LAIDER 137 

'SAVONAROLA' BROWN *y 173 . 




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V\ 



ENOCH SOAMES 



ENOCH SOAMES 



WHEN a book about the literature of the 
eighteen-nineties was given by Mr. Hol- 
brook Jackson to the world, I looked 
eagerly in the index for Soames, Enoch. I had 
feared he would not be there. He was not there. 
But everybody else was. Many writers whom I had 
quite forgotten, or remembered but faintly, lived 
again for me, they and their work, in Mr. Holbrook 
Jackson's pages. The book was as thorough as it 
was brilliantly written. And thus the omission 
found by me was an all the deadlier record of poor 
Soames' failure to impress himself on his decade. 

I daresay I am the only person who noticed the 
omission. Soames had failed so piteously as all 
that ! Nor is there a counterpoise in the thought 
that if he had had some measure of success he might 
have passed, like those others, out of my mind, to 
return only at the historian's beck. It is true that 
had his gifts, such as they were, been acknowledged 
in his life-time, he would never have made the 
bargain I saw him make — that strange bargain 
whose results have kept him always in the fore- 

8 



SEVEN MEN 

ground of my memory. But it is from those very 
results that the full piteousness of him glares out. 

Not my compassion, however, impels me to write 
of him. For his sake, poor fellow, I should be 
inclined to keep my pen out of the ink. It is ill 
to deride the dead. And how can I write about 
Enoch Soames without making him ridiculous ? 
Or rather, how am I to hush up the horrid fact that 
he was ridiculous ? I shall not be able to do that. 
Yet, sooner or later, write about him 1 must. You 
will see, in due course, that I have no option. And 
I may as well get the thing done now. 

In the Summer Term of '93 a bolt from the blue 
flashed down on Oxford. It drove deep, it hurtlingly 
embedded itself in the soil. Dons and under- 
graduates stood around, rather pale, discussing 
nothing but it. Whence came it, this meteorite ? 
From Paris. Its name ? Will Rothenstein. Its 
aim ? To do a series of twenty-four portraits in 
lithograph. These were to be published from the 
Bodley Head, London. The matter was urgent. 
Already the Warden of A, and the Master of B, and 
the Regius Professor of C, had meekly ' sat.' Digni- 
fied and doddering old men, who had never consented 
to sit to any one, could not withstand this dynamic 
little stranger. He did not sue : he invited ; he 
did not invite : he commanded. He was twenty- 
one years old. He wore spectacles that flashed 
more than any other pair ever seen. He was a wit. 

4 



ENOCH SOAMES 

He was brimful of ideas. He knew Whistler. He 
knew Edmond de Goncotirt. He knew every one in 
Paris. He knew them all by heart. He was Paris 
in Oxford. It was whispered that, so soon as he 
had polished off his selection of dons, he was going 
to include a few undergraduates. It was a proud 
day for me when I — I — was included. I liked 
Rothenstein not less than I feared him ; and there 
arose between us a friendship that has grown ever 
warmer, and been more and more valued by me, 
with every passing year. 

At the end of Term he settled in — or rather, 
meteoritically into — London. It was to him I owed 
my first knowledge of that forever enchanting little 
world-in-itself, Chelsea, and my first acquaintance 
with Walter Sickert and other august elders who 
dwelt there. It was Rothenstein that took me to 
see, in Cambridge Street, Pimlico, a young man 
whose drawings were already famous among the few 
— Aubrey Beardsley, by name. With Rothenstein 
I paid my first visit to the Bodley Head. By him I 
was inducted into another haunt of intellect and 
daring, the domino room of the Cafe Royal. 

There, on that October evening — there, in that 
exuberant vista of gilding and crimson velvet set 
amidst all those opposing mirrors and upholding 
caryatids, with fumes of tobacco ever rising to the 
painted and pagan ceiling, and with the hum of 
presumably cynical conversation broken into so 
sharply now and again by the clatter of dominoes 

5 



SEVEN MEN 

shuffled on marble tables, I drew a deep breath, and 
4 This indeed,' said I to myself, 4 is life ! ' 

It was the hour before dinner. We drank ver- 
mouth. Those who knew Rothenstein were pointing 
him out to those who knew him only by name. Men 
were constantly coming in through the swing-doors 
and wandering slowly up and down in search of 
vacant tables, or of tables occupied by friends. One 
of these rovers interested me because I was sure he 
wanted to catch Rothenstein's eye. He had twice 
passed our table, with a hesitating look ; but 
Rothenstein, in the thick of a disquisition on Puvis 
de Chavannes, had not seen him. He was a stoop- 
ing, shambling person, rather tall, very pale, with 
longish and brownish hair. He had a thin vague 
beard — or rather, he had a chin on which a large 
number of hairs weakly curled and clustered to 
cover its retreat. He was an odd-looking person ; 
but in the 'nineties odd apparitions were more 
frequent, I think, than they are now. The young 
writers of that era — and I was sure this man was a 
writer — strove earnestly to be distinct in aspect. 
This man had striven unsuccessfully. He wore a 
soft black hat of clerical kind but of Bohemian 
intention, and a grey waterproof cape which, 
perhaps because it was waterproof, failed to be 
romantic. I decided that ' dim ' was the mot juste 
for him. I had already essayed to write, and was 
immensely keen on the mot juste, that Holy Grail of 
the period. 

6 



ENOCH SOAMES 

The dim man was now again approaching our 
table, and this time he made up his mind to pause 
in front of it. ' You don't remember me,' he said 
in a toneless voice. 

Rothenstein brightly focussed him. 4 Yes, I do/ 
he replied after a moment, with pride rather than 
effusion — pride in a retentive memory. ' Edwin 
Soames.' 

4 Enoch Soames,' said Enoch. 

4 Enoch Soames,' repeated Rothenstein in a tone 
implying that it was enough to have hit on the 
surname. 4 We met in Paris two or three times 
when you were living there. We met at the Cafe 
Groche.' 

4 And I came to your studio once.' 

4 Oh yes ; I was sorry I was out.' 

4 But you were in. You showed me some of your 
paintings, you know. . . I hear you're in Chelsea 
now.' 

4 Yes.' 

I almost wondered that Mr. Soames did not, after 
this monosyllable, pass along. He stood patiently 
there, rather like a dumb animal, rather like a 
donkey looking over a gate. A sad figure, his. It 
occurred to me that 4 hungry ' was perhaps the mot 
juste for him ; but — hungry for what ? He looked 
as if he had little appetite for anything. I was sorry 
for him ; and Rothenstein, though he had not 
invited him to Chelsea, did ask him to sit down and 
have something to drink. 

7 



SEVEN MEN 

Seated, he was more self-assertive. He flung 
back the wings of his cape with a gesture which — 
had not those wings been waterproof — might have 
seemed to hurl defiance at things in general. And 
he ordered an absinthe. 4 Je me tiens toujour s 
fidele,' he told Rothenstein, 4 a la sorciere glauque.' 

4 It is bad for you/ said Rothenstein dryly. 

4 Nothing is bad for one,' answered Soames. 
4 Dans ce monde il rCy a ni de Men ni de mal? 

4 Nothing good and nothing bad ? How do you 
mean ? ' 

4 1 explained it all in the preface to " Negations." ' 

4 44 Negations " ? ' 

4 Yes ; I gave you a copy of it.' 

4 Oh yes, of course. But did you explain — for 
instance — that there was no such thing as bad or 
good grammar ? ' 

4 N-no,' said Soames. 4 Of course in Art there is 
the good and the evil. But in Life — no.' He was 
rolling a cigarette. He had weak white hands, not 
well washed, and with finger-tips much stained by 
nicotine. 4 In Life there are illusions of good and 
evil, but ' — his voice trailed away to a murmur in 
which the words 4 vieux jeu ' and ' rococo ' were 
faintly audible. I think he felt he was not doing 
himself justice, and feared that Rothenstein was 
going to point out fallacies. Anyhow, he cleared 
his throat and said 4 Parlous d'autre chose.'' 

It occurs to you that he was a fool ? It didn't to 
me. I was young, and had not the clarity of 

8 



ENOCH SOAMES 

judgment that Rothenstein already had. Soames 
was quite five or six years older than either of us. 
Also, he had written a book. 

It was wonderful to have written a book. 

If Rothenstein had not been there, I should have 
revered Soames. Even as it was, I respected him. 
And I was very near indeed to reverence when he 
said he had another book coming out soon. I asked 
if I might ask what kind of book it was to be. 

4 My poems,' he answered. Rothenstein asked if 
this was to be the title of the book. The poet 
meditated on this suggestion, but said he rather 
thought of giving the book no title at all. ' If a 
book is good in itself — ' he murmured, waving his 
cigarette. 

Rothenstein objected that absence of title might 
be bad for the sale of a book. ' If,' he urged, ' I 
went into a bookseller's and said simply " Have 
you got ? " or " Have you a copy of ? " how would 
they know what I wanted ? ' 

1 Oh, of course I should have my name on the 
cover,' Soames answered earnestly. i And I rather 
want,' he added, looking hard at Rothenstein, * to 
have a drawing of myself as frontispiece.' Rothen- 
stein admitted that this was a capital idea, and 
mentioned that he was going into the country and 
would be there for some time. He then looked at 
his watch, exclaimed at the hour, paid the waiter, 
and went away with me to dinner. Soames remained 
at his post of fidelity to the glaucous witch. 

9 



SEVEN MEN 

* Why were you so determined not to draw him ? ' 
I asked. 

4 Draw him ? Him ? How can one draw a man 
who doesn't exist ? ' 

4 He is dim,' I admitted. But my mot juste fell 
flat. Rothenstein repeated that Soames was non- 
existent. 

Still, Soames had written a book. I asked if 
Rothenstein had read ' Negations.' He said he had 
looked into it, 4 but,' he added crisply, 4 1 don't 
profess to know anything about writing.' A reser- 
vation very characteristic of the period ! Painters 
would not then allow that any one outside their 
own order had a right to any opinion about painting. 
This law (graven on the tablets brought down by 
Whistler from the summit of Fujiyama) imposed 
certain limitations. If other arts than painting were 
not utterly unintelligible to all but the men who 
practised them, the law tottered — the Monroe Doc- 
trine, as it were, did not hold good. Therefore no 
painter would offer an opinion of a book without 
warning you at any rate that his opinion was 
worthless. No one is a better judge of literature 
than Rothenstein ; but it wouldn't have done to tell 
him so in those days ; and I knew that I must form 
an unaided judgment on 4 Negations.' 

Not to buy a book of which I had met the author 
face to face would have been for me in those days 
an impossible act of self-denial. When I returned 
to Oxford for the Christmas Term I had duly 

10 



ENOCH SOAMES 

secured i Negations.' I used to keep it lying care- 
lessly on the table in my room, and whenever a 
friend took it up and asked what it was about I 
would say ' Oh, it's rather a remarkable book. It's 
by a man whom I know.' Just ' what it was about ' 
I never was able to say. Head or tail was just what 
I hadn't made of that slim green volume. I found 
in the preface no clue to the exiguous labyrinth of 
contents, and in that labyrinth nothing to explain 
the preface. 

1 Lean near to life. Lean very near — nearer. 

* Life is web, and therein nor warp nor woof is, but 
web only. 

4 It is for this I am Catholick in church and in 
thought, yet do let swift Mood weave there what the 
shuttle of Mood wills.'' 

These were the opening phrases of the preface, 
but those which followed were less easy to under- 
stand. Then came ' Stark : A Conte,' about a 
midinette who, so far as I could gather, murdered, 
or was about to murder, a mannequin. It was 
rather like a story by Catulle Mend£s in which the 
translator had either skipped or cut out every 
alternate sentence. Next, a dialogue between Pan 
and St. Ursula — lacking, I felt, in * snap.' Next, 
some aphorisms (entitled oKpopla-imaTa). Throughout, 
in fact, there was a great variety of form ; and the 
forms had evidently been wrought with much care. 
It was rather the substance that eluded me. Was 
there, I wondered, any substance at all ? It did 

11 



SEVEN MEN 

now occur to me : suppose Enoch Soames was a 
fool ! Up cropped a rival hypothesis : suppose / 
was ! I inclined to give Soames the benefit of the 
doubt. I had read i L'Apres-midi d'un Faune ' 
without extracting a glimmer of meaning. Yet 
Mallarme — of course — was a Master. How was I to 
know that Soames wasn't another ? There was a 
sort of music in his prose, not indeed arresting, but 
perhaps, I thought, haunting, and laden perhaps 
with meanings as deep as Mallarme's own. I 
awaited his poems with an open mind. 

And I looked forward to them with positive 
impatience after I had had a second meeting with 
him. This was, on an evening in January. Going 
into the aforesaid domino room, I passed a table at 
which sat a pale man with an open book before him. 
He looked from his book to me, and I looked back 
over my shoulder with a vague sense that I ought 
\o have recognised him. I returned to pay my 
respects. After exchanging a few words, I said 
with a glance to the open book, ' I see I am inter- 
rupting you,' and was about to pass on, but ' I 
prefer,' Soames replied in his toneless voice, c to be 
interrupted,' and I obeyed his gesture that I should 
sit down. 

I asked him if he often read here. 4 Yes ; things 
of this kind I read here,' he answered, indicating the 
title of his book — ' The Poems of Shelley.' 

4 Anything that you really ' — and I was going to 
say ' admire ? ' But I cautiously left my sentence 

12 



ENOCH SOAMES 

unfinished, and was glad that I had done so, for he 
said, with unwonted emphasis, 4 Anything second- 
rate.' 

I had read little of Shelley, but * Of course,' I 
murmured, 4 he's very uneven.' 

4 1 should have thought evenness was just what 
was wrong with him. A deadly evenness. That's 
why I read him here. The noise of this place breaks 
the rhythm. He's tolerable here.' Soames took up 
the book and glanced through the pages. He 
laughed. Soames' laugh was a short, single and 
mirthless sound from the throat, unaccompanied by 
any movement of the face or brightening of the eyes. 
4 What a period ! ' he uttered, laying the book 
down. And 4 What a country ! ' he added. 

I asked rather nervously if he didn't think Keats 
had more or less held his own against the drawbacks 
of time and place. He admitted that there were 
4 passages in Keats,' but did not specify them. Of 
4 the older men,' as he called them, he seemed to like 
only Milton. 4 Milton,' he said, 4 wasn't senti- 
mental.' Also, 4 Milton had a dark insight.' And 
again, 4 1 can always read Milton in the reading- 
room.' 

4 The reading-room ? ' 

4 Of the British Museum. I go there every day.' 

4 You do ? I've only been there once. I'm afraid 
I found it rather a depressing place. It — it seemed 
to sap one's vitality.' 

4 It does. That's why I go there. The lower one's 
18 



SEVEN MEN 

vitality, the more sensitive one is to great art. I 
live near the Museum. I have rooms in Dyott 
Street.' 

* And you go round to the reading-room to read 
Milton ? ' 

1 Usually Milton.' He looked at me. ' It was 
Milton,' he certificatively added, 4 who converted me 
to Diabolism.' 

4 Diabolism ? Oh yes ? Really ? ' said I, with 
that vague discomfort and that intense desire to be 
polite which one feels when a man speaks of his own 
religion. 4 You — worship the Devil ? ' 

Soames shook his head. 4 It's not exactly wor- 
ship,' he qualified, sipping his absinthe. 4 It's more 
a matter of trusting and encouraging.' 

1 Ak, yes. . . But I had rather gathered from 
the preface to " Negations " that you were a — a 
Catholic' 

4 Je VStais a cette Spoque. Perhaps I still am. 
Yes, I'm a Catholic Diabolist.' 

This profession he made in an almost cursory 
tone. I could see that what was upmost in his mind 
was the fact that I had read 4 Negations.' His pale 
eyes had for the first time gleamed. I felt as one 
who is about to be examined, viva voce, on the very 
subject in which he is shakiest. I hastily asked him 
how soon his po«ms were to be published. 4 Next 
week,' he told me. 

4 And are they to be published without a title ? ' 

4 No. I found a title, at last. But I shan't tell 
14 



ENOCH SOAMES 

you what it is,' as though I had been so impertinent 
as to inquire. ' I am not sure that it wholly satisfies 
me. But it is the best I can find. It suggests 
something of the quality of the poems. . . Strange 
growths, natural and wild, yet exquisite,' he added, 
4 and many-hued, and full of poisons.' 

I asked him what he thought of Baudelaire. He 
uttered the snort that was his laugh, and 4 Baude- 
laire,' he said, ' was a bourgeois malgri luV France 
had had only one poet : Villon ; ' and two-thirds of 
Villon were sheer journalism.' Verlaine was ■ an 
epicier malgri lui.' Altogether, rather to my sur- 
prise, he rated French literature lower than English. 
There were ' passages ' in Villiers de PIsle-Adam. 
But 'I,' he summed up, ■ owe nothing to France.' 
He nodded at me. ' You'll see,' he predicted. 

I did not, when the time came, quite see that. I 
thought the author of ' Fungoids ' did — uncon- 
sciously, of course — owe something to the young 
Parisian decadents, or to the young English ones 
who owed something to them. I still think so. The 
little book — bought by me in Oxford — lies before 
me as I write. Its pale grey buckram cover and 
silver lettering have not worn well. Nor have its 
contents. Through these, with a melancholy in- 
terest, I have again been looking. They are not 
much. But at the time of their publication I had 
a vague suspicion that they might be. I suppose it 
is my capacity for faith, not poor Soames' work, 
that is weaker than it once was. . . 

15 



SEVEN MEN 

To a Young Woman. 

Thou art, who hast not been ! 

Pale tunes irresolute 

And traceries of old sounds 

Blown from a rotted flute 
Mingle with noise of cymbals rouged with rust, 
Nor not strange forms and epicene 

Lie bleeding in the dust, 

Being wounded with wounds. 

For this it is 
That in thy counterpart 

Of age-long mockeries 
Thou hast not been nor art ! 

There seemed to me a certain inconsistency as 
between the first and last lines of this. I tried, with 
bent brows, to resolve the discord. But I did not 
take my failure as wholly incompatible with a 
meaning in Soames' mind. Might it not rather 
indicate the depth of his meaning ? As for the 
craftsmanship, ' rouged with rust ' seemed to me a 
fine stroke, and • nor not ' instead of ' and * had a 
curious felicity. I wondered who the Young Woman 
was, and what she had made of it all. I sadly 
suspect that Soames could not have made more of 
it than she. Yet, even now, if one doesn't try to 
make any sense at all of the poem, and reads it just 
for the sound, there is a certain grace of cadence. 

16 



ENOCH SOAMES 

Soames was an artist — in so far as he was anything, 
poor fellow ! 

It seemed to me, when first I read ' Fungoids,' 
that, oddly enough, the Diabolistic side of him was 
the best. Diabolism seemed to be a cheerful, even 
a wholesome, influence in his life. 

Nocturne. 

Round and round the shutter'd Square 
I stroll'd with the Devil's arm in mine. 
No sound but the scrape of his hoofs was there 
And the ring of his laughter and mine. 
We had drunk black wine. 

/ scream 'd, 1 1 will race you, Master ! ' 
1 What matter S he shriek' d, ' to-night 
Which of us runs the faster ? 
There is nothing to fear to-night 
In the foul moon's light ! ' 

Then I look'd him in the eyes, 
And I laugh'd full shrill at the lie he told 
And the gnawing fear he would fain disguise. 
It was true, what I'd time and again been told : 
He was old — old. v 

i 
There was, I felt, quite a swing about that first 

stanza — a joyous and rollicking note of comradeship. 

The second was slightly hysterical perhaps. But I 

liked the third : it was so bracingly unorthodox, 

17 B 



SEVEN MEN 

even according to the tenets of Soames' peculiar 
sect in the faith. Not much ' trusting and encou- 
raging ' here ! Soames triumphantly exposing the 
Devil as a liar, and laughing ' full shrill,' cut a quite 
heartening figure, I thought — then ! Now, in the 
light of what befell, none of his poems depresses me 
so much as 4 Nocturne.' 

I looked out for what the metropolitan reviewers 
would have to say. They seemed to fall into two 
classes : those who had little to say and those who 
had nothing. The second class was the larger, and 
the words of the first were cold ; insomuch that 

Strikes a note of modernity throughout. . . . These 
tripping numbers. — Preston Telegraph 

was the only lure offered in advertisements by 
Soames' publisher. I had hoped that when next I 
met the poet I could congratulate him on having 
made a stir ; for I fancied he was not so sure of his 
intrinsic greatness as he seemed. I was but able to 
say, rather coarsely, when next I did see him, that 
I hoped ' Fungoids * was ' selling splendidly.' He 
looked at me across his glass of absinthe and asked 
if I had bought a copy. His publisher had told him 
that three had been sold. I laughed, as at a jest. 

4 You don't suppose I care, do you ? ' he said, 
with something like a snarl. I disclaimed the 
notion. He added that he was not a tradesman. 
I said mildly that I wasn't, either, and murmured 
that an artist who gave truly new and great things 
to the world had always to wait long for recognition. 

18 



ENOCH SOAMES 

He said he cared not a sou for recognition. I agreed 
that the act of creation was its own reward. 

His moroseness might have alienated me if I had 
regarded myself as a nobody. But ah ! hadn't both 
John Lane and Aubrey Beardsley suggested that I 
should write an essay for the great new venture 
that was afoot— 4 The Yellow Book ' ? And hadn't 
Henry Harland, as editor, accepted my essay ? 
And wasn't it to be in the very first number ? At 
Oxford I was still in statu pupillari. In London I 
regarded myself as very much indeed a graduate 
now — one whom no Soames could ruffle. Partly to 
show off, partly in sheer good-will, I told Soames he 
ought to contribute to ' The Yellow Book.' He 
uttered from the throat a sound of scorn for that 
publication. 

Nevertheless, I did, a day or two later, tentatively 
ask Harland if he knew anything of the work of a 
man called Enoch Soames. Harland paused in the 
midst of his characteristic stride around the room, 
threw up his hands towards the ceiling, and groaned 
aloud : he had often met 4 that absurd creature ' in 
Paris, and this very morning had received some 
poems in manuscript from him. 

* Has he no talent ? ' I asked. 

4 He has an income. He's all right.' Harland 
was the most joyous of men and most generous of 
critics, and he hated to talk of anything about 
which he couldn't be enthusiastic. So I dropped 
the subject of Soames. The news that Soames had 

19 



SEVEN MEN 

an income did take the edge off solicitude. I 
learned afterwards that he was the son of an unsuc- 
cessful and deceased bookseller in Preston, but had 
inherited an annuity of £300 from a married aunt, 
and had no surviving relatives of any kind. 
Materially, then, he was ' all right.' But there was 
still a spiritual pathos about him, sharpened for me 
now by the possibility that even the praises of The 
Preston Telegraph might not have been forthcoming 
had he not been the son of a Preston man. He had 
a sort of weak doggedness which I could not but 
admire. Neither he nor his work received the 
slightest encouragement ; but he persisted in 
behaving as a personage : always he kept his dingy 
little flag flying. Wherever congregated the jeunes 
feroces of the arts, in whatever Soho restaurant they 
had just discovered, in whatever music-hall they 
were most frequenting, there was Soames in the 
midst of them, or rather on the fringe of them, a 
dim but inevitable figure. He never sought to 
propitiate his fellow- writers, never bated a jot of 
his arrogance about his own work or of his contempt 
for theirs. To the painters he was respectful, even 
humble ; but for the poets and prosaists of ' The 
Yellow Book,' and later of 4 The Savoy,' he had 
never a word but of scorn. He wasn't resented. It 
didn't occur to anybody that he or his Catholic 
Diabolism mattered. When, in the autumn of '96, 
he brought out (at his own expense, this time) a 
third book, his last book, nobody said a word for or 

20 



ENOCH SOAMES 

against it. I meant, but forgot, to buy it. I never 
saw it, and am ashamed to say I don't even remember 
what it was called. But I did, at the time of its 
publication, say to Rothenstein that I thought poor 
old Soames was really a rather tragic figure, and 
that I believed he would literally die for want of 
recognition. Rothenstein scoffed. He said I was 
trying to get credit for a kind heart which I didn't 
possess ; and perhaps this was so. But at the 
private view of the New English Art Club, a few 
weeks later, I beheld a pastel portrait of ' Enoch 
Soames, Esq.' It was very like him, and very like 
Rothenstein to have done it. Soames was standing 
near it, in his soft hat and his waterproof cape, all 
through the afternoon. Anybody who knew him 
would have recognised the portrait at a glance, but 
nobody who didn't know him would have recognised 
the portrait from its bystander : it * existed ' so 
much more than he ; it was bound to. Also, it 
had not that expression of faint happiness which on 
this day was discernible, j^es, in Soames' countenance. 
Fame had breathed on him. Twice again in the 
course of the month I went to the New English, and 
on both occasions Soames himself was on view 
there. Looking back, I regard the close of that 
exhibition as having been virtually the close of his 
career. He had felt the breath of Fame against bis 
cheek — so late, for such a little while ; and at its 
withdrawal he gave in, gave up, gave out. He, who 
had never looked strong or well, looked ghastly now 

21 



SEVEN MEN 

— a shadow of the shade he had once been. He 
still frequented the domino room, but, having lost 
all wish to excite curiosity, he no longer read books 
there. ' You read only at the Museum now ? ' 
asked I, with attempted cheerfulness. He said he 
never went there now. ' No absinthe there, 5 he 
muttered. It was the sort of thing that in the old 
days he would have said for effect ; but it carried 
conviction now. Absinthe, erst but a point in the 
1 personality ' he had striven so hard to build up, 
was solace and necessity now. He no longer called 
it ' la sorciere glauque.' He had shed away all his 
French phrases. He had become a plain, unvar- 
nished, Preston man. 

Failure, if it be a plain, unvarnished, complete 
failure, and even though it be a squalid failure, has 
always a certain dignity. I avoided Soames because 
he made me feel rather vulgar. John Lane had 
published, by this time, two little books of mine, 
and they had had a pleasant little success of esteem. 
I was a — slight but definite — ' personality.' Frank 
Harris had engaged me to kick up my heels in The 
Saturday Review, Alfred Harmsworth was letting me 
do likewise in The Daily Mail. I was just what 
Soames wasn't. And he shamed my gloss. Had I 
known that he really and firmly believed in the 
greatness of what he as an artist had achieved, I 
might not have shunned him. No man who hasn't 
lost his vanity can be held to have altogether failed. 
Soames' dignity was an illusion of mine. One day 

22 



ENOCH SOAMES 

in the first week of June, 1897, that illusion went. 
But on the evening of that day Soames went too. 

I had been out most of the morning, and, as it 
was too late to reach home in time for luncheon, I 
sought ' the Vingtieme.' This little place — Res- 
taurant du Vingtieme Siecle, to give it its full title 
— had been discovered in '96 by the poets and 
prosaists, but had now been more or less abandoned 
in favour of some later find. I don't think it lived 
long enough to justify its name ; but at that time 
there it still was, in Greek Street, a few doors from 
Soho Square, and almost opposite to that house 
where, in the first years of the century, a little girl, 
and with her a boy named De Quincey, made 
nightly encampment in darkness and hunger among 
dust and rats and old legal parchments. The 
Vingtieme was but a small whitewashed room, 
leading out into the street at one end and into a 
kitchen at the other. The proprietor and cook was 
a Frenchman, known to us as Monsieur Vingtieme ; 
the waiters were his two daughters, Rose and 
Berthe ; and the food, according to faith, was good. 
The tables were so narrow, and were set so close 
together, that there was space for twelve of them, 
six jutting from either wall. 

Only the two nearest to the door, as I went in, 
were occupied. On one side sat a tall, flashy, 
rather Mephistophelian man whom I had seen from 
time to time in the domino room and elsewhere. 
On the other side sat Soames. They made a queer 

23 



SEVEN MEN 

contrast in that sunlit room — Soames sitting haggard 
in that hat and cape which nowhere at any season 
had I seen him doff, and this other, this keenly vital 
man, at sight of whom I more than ever wondered 
whether he were a diamond merchant, a conjurer, or 
the head of a private detective agency. I was sure 
Soames didn't want my company ; but I asked, as 
it would have seemed brutal not to, whether I might 
join him, and took the chair opposite to his. He 
was smoking a cigarette, with an untasted salmi of 
something on his plate and a half-empty bottle of 
Sauterne before him ; and he was quite silent. I 
said that the preparations for the Jubilee made 
London impossible. (I rather liked them, really.) 
I professed a wish to go right away till the whole 
thing was over. In vain did I attune myself to his 
gloom. He seemed not to hear me nor even to see 
me. I felt that his behaviour made me ridiculous 
in the eyes of the other man. The gangway between 
the two rows of tables at the Vingtieme was hardly 
more than two feet wide (Rose and Berthe, in their 
ministrations, had always to edge past each other, 
quarrelling in whispers as they did so), and any one 
at the table abreast of yours was practically at 
yours. I thought our neighbour was amused at my 
failure to interest Soames, and so, as I could not 
explain to him that my insistence was merely 
charitable, I became silent. Without turning my 
head, I had him well within my range of vision. I 
hoped I looked less vulgar than he in contrast with 

24 



ENOCH SOAMES 

Soames. 1 was sure he was not an Englishman, 
but what was his nationality ? Though his jet- 
black hair was en brosse, I did not think he was 
French. To Berthe, who waited on him, he spoke 
French fluently, but with a hardly native idiom and 
accent. I gathered that this was his first visit to 
the Vingtieme ; but Berthe was off-hand in her 
manner to him : he had not made a good impression. 
His eyes were handsome, but — like the Vingtieme's 
tables — too narrow and set too close together. His 
nose was predatory, and the points of his moustache, 
waxed up beyond his nostrils, gave a fixity to his 
smile. Decidedly, he was sinister. And my sense 
of discomfort in his presence was intensified by the 
scarlet waistcoat which tightly, and so unseasonably 
in June, sheathed his ample chest. This waistcoat 
wasn't wrong merely because of the heat, either. It 
was somehow all wrong in itself. It wouldn't have 
done on Christmas morning. It would have struck 
a jarring note at the first night of * Hernani.' I was 
trying to account for its wrongness when Soames 
suddenly and strangely broke silence. * A hundred 
years hence ! ' he murmured, as in a trance. 

4 We shall not be here ! ' I briskly but fatuously 
added. 

1 We shall not be here. No,' he droned, * but the 
Museum will still be just where it is. And the 
reading-room, just where it is. And people will be 
able to go and read there.' He inhaled sharply, and 
a spasm as of actual pain contorted his features. 

25 



SEVEN MEN 

I wondered what train of thought poor Soames 
had been following. He did not enlighten me when 
he said, after a long pause, 4 You think I haven't 
minded.' 

4 Minded what, Soames ? ' 

4 Neglect. Failure.' 

4 Failure ? ' I said heartily. 4 Failure ?' I re- 
peated vaguely. 4 Neglect — yes, perhaps ; but that's 
quite another matter. Of course you haven't been 
— appreciated. But what then ? Any artist who 
— who gives — ' What I wanted to say was, 4 Any 
artist who gives truly new and great things to the 
world has always to wait long for recognition ' ; but 
the flattery would not out : in the face of his misery, 
a misery so genuine and so unmasked, my lips would 
not say the words. 

And then — he said them for me. I flushed. 
4 That's what you were going to say, isn't it ? ' he 
asked. 

4 How did you know ? ' 

4 It's what you said to me three years ago, when 
44 Fungoids " was published.' I flushed the more. 
I need not have done so at all, for 4 It's the only 
important thing I ever heard you say,' he continued. 
4 And I've never forgotten it. It's a true thing. 
It's a horrible truth. But — d'you remember what 
I answered ? I said 44 1 don't care a sou for recogni- 
tion." And you believed me. You've gone on 
believing I'm above that sort of thing. You're 
shallow. What should you know of the feelings of 

26 



ENOCH SOAMES 

a man like me ? You imagine that a great artist's 
faith in himself and in the verdict of posterity is 
enough to keep him happy. . . You've never 
guessed at the bitterness and loneliness, the ' — his 
voice broke ; but presently he resumed, speaking 
with a force that I had never known in him. ' Pos- 
terity ! What use is it to me ? A dead man doesn't 
know that people are visiting his grave — visiting his 
birthplace — putting up tablets to him — unveiling 
statues of him. A dead man can't read the books 
that are written about him. A hundred years 
hence ! Think of it ! If I could come back to life 
then — just for a few hours — and go to the reading- 
room, and read ! Or better still : if I could be 
projected, now, at this moment, into that future, 
into that reading-room, just for this one afternoon ! 
I'd sell myself body and soul to the devil, for that ! 
Think of the pages and pages in the catalogue : 
" So ames, Enoch " endlessly — endless editions, 
commentaries, prolegomena, biographies ' — but here 
he was interrupted by a sudden loud creak of the 
chair at the next table. Our neighbour had half 
risen from his place. He was leaning towards us, 
apologetically intrusive. 

4 Excuse — permit me,' he said softly. ' I have 
been unable not to hear. Might I take a liberty ? 
In this little restaurant-sans-facon ' — he spread wide 
his hands — * might I, as the phrase is, " cut in " ? ' 

I could but signify our acquiescence. Berthe had 
appeared at the kitchen door, thinking the stranger 

27 



SEVEN MEN 

wanted his bill. He waved her away with his 
cigar, and in another moment had seated himself 
beside me, commanding a full view of Soames. 

4 Though not an Englishman,' he explained, ' I 
know my London well, Mr. Soames. Your name 
and fame — Mr. Beerbohm's too — very known to me. 
Your point is : who am I ? ' He glanced quickly 
over his shoulder, and in a lowered voice said ' I am 
the Devil.' 

I couldn't help it : I laughed. I tried not to, I 
knew there was nothing to laugh at, my rudeness 
shamed me, but — I laughed with increasing volume. 
The Devil's quiet dignity, the surprise and disgust 
of his raised eyebrows, did but the more dissolve 
me. I rocked to and fro, I lay back aching. I 
behaved deplorably. 

4 1 am a gentleman, and,' he said with intense 
emphasis, ' I thought I was in the company of 
gentlemen, 1 

4 Don't ! ' I gasped faintly. 4 Oh, don't ! ' 

4 Curious, nicht wahr ? ' I heard him say to Soames. 
4 There is a type of person to whom the very mention 
of my name is — oh-so-awfully-funny ! In your 
theatres the dullest comedien needs only to say 
44 The Devil ! " and right away they give him 44 the 
loud laugh that speaks the vacant mind." Is it 
not so ? ' 

I had now j ust breath enough to offer my apologies. 
He accepted them, but coldly, and re-addressed 
himself to Soames. 

28 



ENOCH SOAMES 

4 1 am a man of business,' he said, 4 and always I 
would put things through " right now," as they say 
in the States. You are a poet. Les affaires — you 
detest them. So be it. But with me you will deal, 
eh ? What you have said just now gives me 
furiously to hope.' 

Soames had not moved, except to light a fresh 
cigarette. He sat crouched forward, with his elbows 
squared on the table, and his head just above the 
level of his hands, staring up at the Devil. 4 Go on,' 
he nodded. I had no remnant of laughter in me 
now. 

4 It will be the more pleasant, our little deal,' the 
Devil went on, 4 because you are — I mistake not ? — 
a Diabolist.' 

4 A Catholic Diabolist,' said Soames. 

The Devil accepted the reservation genially. 
4 You wish,' he resumed, 4 to visit now — this after- 
noon as-ever-is — the reading-room of the British 
Museum, yes ? but of a hundred years hence, yes ? 
Parfaitement. Time — an illusion. Past and future 
— they are as ever-present as the present, or at any 
rate only what you call 44 just-round-the-corner." 
I switch you on to any date. I project you — pouf ! 
You wish to be in the reading-room just as it will 
be on the afternoon of June 3, 1997 ? You wish to 
find yourself standing in that room, just past the 
swing-doors, this very minute, yes ? and to stay 
there till closing time ? Am I right ? ' 

Soames nodded. 

29 



SEVEN MEN 

The Devil looked at his watch. ' Ten past two, 
he said. ' Closing time in summer same then as 
now : seven o'clock. That will give you almost five 
hours. At seven o'clock — pouf ! — you find yourself 
again here, sitting at this table. I am dining to- 
night dans le monde — dans le higlif. That concludes 
my present visit to your great city. I come and 
fetch you here, Mr. Soames, on my way home.' 

* Home ? ' I echoed. 

4 Be it never so humble ! ' said the Devil lightly. 

1 All right,' said Soames. 

1 Soames ! ' I entreated. But my friend moved 
not a muscle. 

The Devil had made as though to stretch forth 
his hand across the table and touch Soames' fore- 
arm ; but he paused in his gesture. 

4 A hundred years hence, as now,' he smiled, ' no 
smoking allowed in the reading-room. You would 
better therefore ' 

Soames removed the cigarette from his mouth 
and dropped it into his glass of Sauterne. 

1 Soames ! ' again I cried. ' Can't you ' — but the 
Devil had now stretched forth his hand across the 
table. He brought it slowly down on — the table- 
cloth. Soames' chair was empty. His cigarette 
floated sodden in 'his wine-glass. There was no 
other trace of him. 

For a few moments the Devil let his hand rest 
where it lay, gazing at me out of the corners of his 
eyes, vulgarly triumphant. 

30 



ENOCH SOAMES 

A shudder shook me. With an effort I controlled 
myself and rose from my chair. ' Very clever,' I 
said condescendingly. ' But — " The Time Machine " 
is a delightful book, don't you think ? So entirely 
original ! ' 

4 You are pleased to sneer,' said the Devil, who 
had also risen, i but it is one thing to write about 
an impossible machine ; it is a quite other thing to be 
a Supernatural Power.' All the same, I had scored. 

Berthe had come forth at the sound of our rising. 
I explained to her that Mr. Soames had been called 
away, and that both he and I would be dining here. 
It was not until I was out in the open air that I 
began to feel giddy. I have but the haziest recollec- 
tion of what I did, where I wandered, in the glaring 
sunshine of that endless afternoon. I remember the 
sound of carpenters' hammers all along Piccadilly, 
and the bare chaotic look of the half-erected 4 stands.' 
Was it in the Green Park, or in Kensington Gardens, 
or where was it that I sat on a chair beneath a tree, 
trying to read an evening paper ? There was a 
phrase in the leading article that went on repeating 
itself in my fagged mind — * Little is hidden from 
this august Lady full of the garnered wisdom of 
sixty years of Sovereignty.' I remember wildly 
conceiving a letter (to reach Windsor by express 
messenger told to await answer) : 

1 Madam, — Well knowing that your Majesty is 
full of the garnered wisdom of sixty years of 

31 



SEVEN MEN 

Sovereignty, I venture to ask your advice in the 
following delicate matter. Mr. Enoch Soames, 
whose poems you may or may not know,' . . . 

Was there no way of helping him — saving him ? A 
bargain was a bargain, and I was the last man to 
aid or abet any one in wriggling out of a reasonable 
obligation. I wouldn't have lifted a little finger to 
save Faust. But poor Soames ! — doomed to pay 
without respite an eternal price for nothing but a 
fruitless search and a bitter disillusioning. . . 

Odd and uncanny it seemed to me that he, Soames, 
in the flesh, in the waterproof cape, was at this 
moment living in the last decade of the next century, 
poring over books not yet written, and seeing and 
seen by men not yet born. Uncannier and odder 
still, that to-night and evermore he would be in 
Hell. Assuredly, truth was stranger than fiction. 

Endless that afternoon was. Almost I wished I 
had gone with Soames — not indeed to stay in the 
reading-room, but to sally forth for a brisk sight- 
seeing walk around a new London. I wandered 
restlessly out of the Park I had sat in. Vainly I 
tried to imagine myself an ardent tourist from the 
eighteenth century. Intolerable was the strain of 
the slow-passing and empty minutes. Long before 
seven o'clock I was back at the Vingtieme. 

I sat there just where I had sat for luncheon. Air 
came in listlessly through the open door behind me. 
Now and again Rose or Berthe appeared for a 

32 



ENOCH SOAMES 

i 

moment. I had told them I would not order any 
dinner till Mr. Soames came. A hurdy-gurdy began 
to play, abruptly drowning the noise of a quarrel 
between some Frenchmen further up the street. 
Whenever the tune was changed I heard the quarrel 
still raging. I had bought another evening paper 
on my way. I unfolded it. My eyes gazed ever 
away from it to the clock over the kitchen door. . . 

Five minutes, now, to the hour ! I remembered 
that clocks in restaurants are kept five minutes fast. 
I concentrated my eyes on the paper. I vowed I 
would not look away from it again. I held it 
upright, at its full width, close to my face, so that 
I had no view of anything but it. . . Rather a 
tremulous sheet ? Only because of the draught, I 
told myself. 

My arms gradually became stiff ; they ached ; 
but I could not drop them — now. I had a suspicion, 
I had a certainty. Well, what then ? . . . What 
else had I come for ? Yet I held tight that barrier 
of newspaper. Only the sound of Berthe's brisk 
footstep from the kitchen enabled me, forced me, to 
drop it, and to utter : 

4 What shall we have to eat, Soames ? ' 

1 // est souffrant, ce pauvre Monsieur Soames ? ' 
asked Berthe. 

1 He's only — tired.' I asked her to get some 
wine — Burgundy — and whatever food might be 
ready. Soames sat crouched forward against the 
table, exactly as when last I had seen him. It was 

38 C 



SEVEN MEN 

as though he had never moved — he who had moved 
so unimaginably far. Once or twice in the afternoon 
it had for an instant occurred to me that perhaps 
his journey was not to be fruitless — that perhaps we 
had all been wrong in our estimate of the works of 
Enoch Soames. That we had been horribly right 
was horribly clear from the look of him. But 
4 Don't be discouraged,' I falteringly said. ' Perhaps 
it's only that you — didn't leave enough time. Two, 

three centuries hence, perhaps ' 

4 Yes,' his voice came. ' I've thought of that.' 

* And now — now for the more immediate future ! 
Where are you going to hide ? How would it be if 
you caught the Paris express from Charing Cross ? 
Almost an hour to spare. Don't go on to Paris. 
Stop at Calais. Live in Calais. He'd never think 
of looking for you in Calais.' 

1 It's like my luck,' he said, 4 to spend my last 
hours on earth with an ass.' But I was not offended. 
4 And a treacherous ass,' he strangely added, tossing 
across to me a crumpled bit of paper which he had 
been holding in his hand. I glanced at the writing 
on it — some sort of gibberish, apparently. I laid it 
impatiently aside. 

4 Come, Soames ! pull yourself together ! This 
isn't a mere matter of life and death. It's a question 
of eternal torment, mind you ! You don't mean to 
say you're going to wait limply here till the Devil 
comes to fetch you ? ' 

* I can't do anything else. I've no choice.' 

34 



ENOCH SOAMES 

I Come ! This is " trusting and encouraging " 
with a vengeance ! This is Diabolism run mad ! ■ 
I filled his glass with wine. 4 Surely, now that 
you've seen the brute ' 

4 It's no good abusing him.' 

' You must admit there's nothing Miltonic about 
him, Soames.' 

I I don't say he's not rather different from what 
I expected.' 

4 He's a vulgarian, he's a swell-mobsman, he's the 
sort of man who hangs about the corridors of trains 
going to the Riviera and steals ladies' jewel-cases. 
Imagine eternal torment presided over by him ! ' 
4 You don't suppose I look forward to it, do you ? ' 
4 Then why not slip quietly out of the way ? ' 
Again and again I filled his glass, and always, 
mechanically, he emptied it ; but the wine kindled 
no spark of enterprise in him. He did not eat, and 
I myself ate hardly at all. I did not in my heart 
believe that any dash for freedom could save him. 
The chase would be swift, the capture certain. But 
better anything than this passive, meek, miserable 
waiting. I told Soames that for the honour of the 
human race he ought to make some show of 
resistance. He asked what the human race had 
ever done for him. 4 Besides,' he said, 4 can't you 
understand that I'm in his power ? You saw him 
touch me, didn't you ? There's an end of it. I've 
no will. I'm sealed «' 

I made a gesture of despair. He went on repeat- 
85 



SEVEN MEN 

ing the word ' sealed.' I began to realise that the 
wine had clouded his brain. No wonder ! Foodless 
he had gone into futurity, foodless he still was. I 
urged him to eat at any rate some bread. It was 
maddening to think that he, who had so much to 
tell, might tell nothing. 4 How was it all,' I asked, 

I yonder ? Come ! Tell me your adventures.' 

1 They'd make first-rate " copy," wouldn't they ? • 

4 I'm awfully sorry for you, Soames, and I make 

all possible allowances ; but what earthly right have 

you to insinuate that I should make " copy," as 

you call it, out of you ? ' 

The poor fellow pressed his hands to his forehead. 

I I don't know,' he said. * I had some reason, I 
know. . . I'll try to remember.' 

1 That's right. Try to remember everything. Eat 
a little more bread. What did the reading-room 
look like ? ' 

1 Much as usual,' he at length muttered. 

1 Many people there ? ' 

4 Usual sort of number.' 

4 What did they look like ? ' 

Soames tried to visualise them. ' They all,' he 
presently remembered, 4 looked very like one 
another.' 

My mind took a fearsome leap. ' All dressed in 
Jaeger ? ' 

4 Yes. I think so. Greyish-yellowish stuff.' 

4 A sort of uniform ? ' He nodded. 4 With a 
number on it, perhaps ? — a number on a large disc 

36 



ENOCH SOAMES 

of metal sewn on to the left sleeve ? DKF 
78,910 — that sort of thing ? ' It was even so. 
4 And all of them — men and women alike — looking 
very well-cared-for ? very Utopian ? and smelling 
rather strongly of carbolic ? and all of them quite 
hairless ? ■ I was right every time. Soames was 
only not sure whether the men and women were 
hairless or shorn. 4 I hadn't time to look at them 
very closely,' he explained. 

4 No, of course not. But ' 

4 They stared at me, I can tell you. I attracted a 
great deal of attention.' At last he had done that ! 
4 1 think I rather scared them. They moved away 
whenever I came near. They followed me about 
at a distance, wherever I went. The men at the 
round desk in the middle seemed to have a sort of 
panic whenever I went to make inquiries.' 

4 What did you do when you arrived ? ' 

Well, he had gone straight to the catalogue, of 
;jurse — to the S volumes, and had stood long 
before SN-SOF, unable to take this volume out of 
the shelf, because his heart was beating so. . . At 
first, he said, he wasn't disappointed — he only 
thought there was some new arrangement. He 
went to the middle desk and asked where the 
catalogue of twentieth-centwcy books was kept. He 
gathered that there was still only one catalogue. 
Again he looked up his name, stared at the three 
little pasted slips he had known so well. Then he 
went and sat down for a long time. . . 

37 



SEVEN MEN 

• And then,' he droned, ' I looked up the " Dic- 
tionary of National Biography " and some encyclo- 
paedias. . . I went back to the middle desk and 
asked what was the best modern book on late 
nineteenth-century literature. They told me Mr. 
T. K. Nupton's book was considered the best. I 
looked it up in the catalogue and filled in a form 
for it. It was brought to me. My name wasn't in 
the index, but — Yes ! ' he said with a sudden 
change of tone. * That's what I'd forgotten. 
Where's that bit of paper ? Give it me back.' 

I, too, had forgotten that cryptic screed. I found 
it fallen on the floor, and handed it to him. 

He smoothed it out, nodding and smiling at me 
disagreeably. ' I found myself glancing through 
Nupton's book,' he resumed. 4 Not very easy 
reading. Some sort of phonetic spelling. . . All 
the modern books I saw were phonetic' 

4 Then I don't want to hear any more, Soames, 
please.' 

' The proper names seemed all to be spelt in the 
old way. But for that, I mightn't have noticed 
my own name.' 

1 Your own name ? Really ? Soames, I'm very 
glad.' 

' And yours.' 

'No !' 

' I thought I should find you waiting here to- 
night. So I took the trouble to copy out the 
passage. Read it.' 

38 



ENOCH SOAMES 

I snatched the paper. Soames' handwriting was 
characteristically dim. It, and the noisome spelling, 
and my excitement, made me all the slower to grasp 
what T. K. Nupton was driving at. 

The document lies before me at this moment. 
Strange that the words I here copy out for you were 
copied out for me by poor Soames just seventy-eight 
years hence. . . 

From p. 234 of 4 Inglish Littracher 1890-1900 ' bi 
T. K. Nupton, publishd bi th Stait, 1992 : 

4 Fr egzarmpl, a riter ov th time, naimd Max 
Beerbohm, hoo woz stil alive in th twentieth senchri, 
rote a stauri in wich e pautraid an immajnari 
karrakter kauld " Enoch Soames " — a thurd-rait 
poit hoo beleevz imself a grate jeneus an maix a 
bargin with th Dewl in auder ter no wot posterriti 
thinx ov im ! It iz a sumwot labud sattire but not 
without vallu az showing hou seriusli the yung men 
ov th aiteen-ninetiz took themselvz. Nou that the 
littreri profeshn haz bin auganized az a departmnt 
of publik servis, our riters hav found their levvl an 
bav lernt ter doo their duti without thort ov th 
morro. " Th laibrer iz werthi ov hiz hire," an that 
iz aul. Thank hewn we hav no Enoch Soameses 
amung us to-dai ! ' 

I found that by murmuring the words aloud (a 
device which I commend to my reader) I was able 
to master them, little by little. The clearer they 

39 



SEVEN MEN 

became, the greater was my bewilderment, my 
distress and horror. The whole thing was a night- 
mare. Afar, the great grisly background of what 
was in store for the poor dear art of letters ; here, at 
the table, fixing on me a gaze that made me hot all 
over, the poor fellow whom — whom evidently . . . 
but no : whatever down-grade my character might 
take in coming years, I should never be such a 
brute as to 

Again I examined the screed. • Immajnari ' — but 
here Soames was, no more imaginary, alas ! than I. 
And * labud ' — what on earth was that ? (To this 
day, I have never made out that word.) 4 It's all 
very — baffling,' I at length stammered. 

Soames said nothing, but cruelly did not cease to 
look at me. 

4 Are you sure,' I temporised, ' quite sure you 
copied the thing out correctly ? ' 

4 Quite.' 

4 Well, then it's this wretched Nupton who must 
have made — must be going to make — some idiotic 
mistake. . . Look here, Soames ! you know me 
better than to suppose that I . . . After all, the 
name " Max Beerbohm " is not at all an uncommon 
one, and there must be several Enoch Soameses 
running around — or rather, " Enoch Soames " is a 
name that might occur to any one writing a story. 
And I don't write stories : I'm an essayist, an 
observer, a recorder. . . I admit that it's an extra- 
ordinary coincidence. But you must see ' 

40 



ENOCH SOAMES 

* I see the whole thing,' said Soames quietly. And 
he added, with a touch of his old manner, but with 
more dignity than I had ever known in him, 
4 Parlons 6? autre chose.'' 

I accepted that suggestion very promptly. I 
returned straight to the more immediate future. I 
spent most of the long evening in renewed appeals 
to Soames to slip away and seek refuge somewhere. 
I remember saying at last that if indeed I was 
destined to write about him, the supposed ' stauri ' 
had better have at least a happy ending. Soames 
repeated those last three words in a tone of intense 
scorn. c In Life and in Art,' he said, ' all that 
matters is an inevitable ending.' 

1 But,' I urged, more hopefully than I felt, * an 
ending that can be avoided isn't inevitable.' 

4 You aren't an artist,' he rasped. ' And you're 
so hopelessly not an artist that, so far from being 
able to imagine a thing and make it seem true, 
you're going to make even a true thing seem as if 
you'd made it up. You're a miserable bungler. 
And it's like my luck.' 

I protested that the miserable bungler was not I 
— was not going to be I — but T. K. Nupton ; and 
we had a rather heated argument, in the thick of 
which it suddenly seemed to me that Soames saw he 
was in the wrong : he had quite physically cowered. 
But I wondered why — and now I guessed with a cold 
throb just why — he stared so, past me. The bringer 
of that ' inevitable ending ' filled the doorway. 

41 



SEVEN MEN 

I managed to turn in my chair and to say, not 
without a semblance of lightness, ' Aha, come in ! ' 
Dread was indeed rather blunted in me by his 
looking so absurdly like a villain in a melodrama. 
The sheen of his tilted hat and of his shirt-front, the 
repeated twists he was giving to his moustache, and 
most of all the magnificence of his sneer, gave token 
that he was there only to be foiled. 

He was at our table in a stride. * I am sorry,' he 
sneered witheringly, 4 to break up your pleasant 
party, but — ' 

4 You don't : you complete it,' I assured him. ' Mr. 
Soames and I want to have a little talk with you. 
Won't you sit ? Mr. Soames got nothing — frankly 
nothing — by his journey this afternoon. We don't wish 
to say that the whole thing was a swindle — a common 
swindle. On the contrary, we believe you meant well. 
But of course the bargain, such as it was, is off.' 

The Devil gave no verbal answer. He merely 
looked at Soames and pointed with rigid forefinger 
to the door. Soames was wretchedly rising from his 
chair when, with a desperate quick gesture, I swept 
together two dinner-knives that were on the table, 
and laid their blades across each other. The Devil 
stepped sharp back against the table behind him, 
averting his face and shuddering. 

4 You are not superstitious ! ' he hissed. 

4 Not at all,' I smiled. 

4 Soames ! ' he said as to an underling, but without 
turning his face, 4 put those knives straight ! ' 

42 



ENOCH SOAMES 

With an inhibitive gesture to my friend, 4 Mr. 
Soames,' I said emphatically to the Devil, ' is a 
Catholic Diabolist ' ; but my poor friend did the 
Devil's bidding, not mine ; and now, with his 
master's eyes again fixed on him, he arose, he 
shuffled past me. I tried to speak. It was he 
that spoke. ' Try,' was the prayer he threw 
back at me as the Devil pushed him roughly out 
through the door, ' try to make them know that 
I did exist ! ' 

In another instant I too was through that door. 
I stood staring all ways — up the street, across it, 
down it. There was moonlight and lamplight, but 
there was not Soames nor that other. 

Dazed, I stood there. Dazed, I turned back, at 
length, into the little room ; and I suppose I paid 
Berthe or Rose for my dinner and luncheon, and for 
Soames' : I hope so, for I never went to the 
Vingtieme again. Ever since that night I have 
avoided Greek Street altogether. And for years I 
did not set foot even in Soho Square, because on 
that same night it was there that I paced and 
loitered, long and long, with some such dull sense of 
hope as a man has in not straying far from the place 
where he has lost something. . . i Round and round 
the shutter'd Square ' — that line came back to me 
on my lonely beat, and with it the whole stanza, 
ringing in my brain and bearing in on me how 
tragically different from the happy scene imagined 
by him was the poet's actual experience of that 

43 



SEVEN MEN 

prince in whom of all princes we should put not 
our trust. 

But — strange how the mind of an essayist, be it 
never so stricken, roves and ranges ! — I remember 
pausing before a wide doorstep and wondering if 
perchance it was on this very one that the young 
De Quincey lay ill and faint while poor Ann flew as 
fast as her feet would carry her to Oxford Street, 
the ' stony-hearted stepmother ■ of them both, and 
came back bearing that ' glass of port wine and 
spices ' but for which he might, so he thought, 
actually have died. Was this the very doorstep 
that the old De Quincey used to revisit in homage ? 
I pondered Ann's fate, the cause of her sudden 
vanishing from the ken of her boy-friend ; and 
presently I blamed myself for letting the past 
over-ride the present. Poor vanished Soames ! 

And for myself, too, I began to be troubled. 
What had I better do ? Would there be a hue and 
cry — Mysterious Disappearance of an Author, and 
all that ? He had last been seen lunching and 
dining in my company. Hadn't I better get a 
hansom and drive straight to Scotland Yard ? . . . 
They would think I was a lunatic. After all, I 
reassured myself, London was a very large place, 
and one very dim figure might easily drop out of it 
unobserved — now especially, in the blinding glare 
of the near Jubilee. Better say nothing at all, I 
thought. 

And I was right. Soames' disappearance made 
44 



ENOCH SOAMES 

no stir at all. He was utterly forgotten before any- 
one, so far as I am aware, noticed that he was no 
longer hanging around. Now and again some poet 
or prosaist may have said to another, 4 What has 
become of that man Soames ? ' but I never heard 
any such question asked. The solicitor through 
whom he was paid his annuity may be presumed to 
have made inquiries, but no echo of these resounded. 
There was something rather ghastly to me in the 
general unconsciousness that Soames had existed, 
and more than once I caught myself wondering 
whether Nupton, that babe unborn, were going to 
be right in thinking him a figment of my brain. 

In that extract from Nupton's repulsive book 
there is one point which perhaps puzzles you. How 
is it that the author, though I have here mentioned 
him by name and have quoted the exact words he 
is going to write, is not going to grasp the obvious 
corollary that I have invented nothing ? The 
answer can be only this : Nupton will not have 
read the later passages of this memoir. Such lack 
of thoroughness is a serious fault in any one who 
undertakes to do scholar's work. And I hope these 
words will meet the eye of some contemporary rival 
to Nupton and be the undoing of Nupton. 

I like to think that some time between 1992 and 
1997 somebody will have looked up this memoir, 
and will have forced on the world his inevitable and 
startling conclusions. And I have reasons for 
believing that this will be so. You realise that the 

45 



SEVEN MEN 

reading-room into which Soames was projected by 
the Devil was in all respects precisely as it will be 
on the afternoon of June 3, 1997. You realise, 
therefore, that on that afternoon, when it comes 
round, there the self-same crowd will be, and there 
Soames too will be, punctually, he and they doing 
precisely what they did before. Recall now Soames' 
account of the sensation he made. You may say 
that the mere difference of his costume was enough 
to make him sensational in that uniformed crowd. 
You wouldn't say so if you had ever seen him. I 
assure you that in no period could Soames be 
anything but dim. The fact that people are going 
to stare at him, and follow him around, and seem 
afraid of him, can be explained only on the hypo- 
thesis that they will somehow have been prepared 
for his ghostly visitation. They will have been 
awfully waiting to see whether he really would 
come. And when he does come the effect will of 
course be — awful. 

An authentic, guaranteed, proven ghost, but — 
only a ghost, alas ! Only that. In his first visit, 
Soames was a creature of flesh and blood, whereas 
the creatures into whose midst he was projected 
were but ghosts, I take it — solid, palpable, vocal, 
but unconscious and automatic ghosts, in a building 
that was itself an illusion. Next time, that building 
and those creatures will be real. It is of Soames 
that there will be but the semblance. I wish I 
could think him destined to revisit the world 

46 



ENOCH SOAMES 

actually, physically, consciously. I wish he had 
this one brief escape, this one small treat, to look 
forward to. I never forget him for long. He is 
where he is, and forever. The more rigid moralists 
among you may say he has only himself to blame. 
For my part, I think he has been very hardly used. 
It is well that vanity should be chastened ; and 
Enoch Soames' vanity was, I admit, above the 
average, and called for special treatment. But 
there was no need for vindictiveness. You say he 
contracted to pay the price he is paying ; yes ; but 
I maintain that he was induced to do so by fraud. 
Well-informed in all things, the Devil must have 
known that my friend would gain nothing by his 
visit to futurity. The whole thing was a very 
shabby trick. The more I think of it, the more 
detestable the Devil seems to me. 

Of him I have caught sight several times, here 
and there, since that day at the Vingtieme. Only 
once, however, have I seen him at close quarters. 
This was in Paris. I was walking, one afternoon, 
along the Rue d' An tin, when I saw him advancing 
from the opposite direction — over-dressed as ever, 
and swinging an ebony cane, and altogether behaving 
as though the whole pavement belonged to him. 
At thought of Enoch Soames and the myriads of 
other sufferers eternally in this brute's dominion, a 
great cold wrath filled me, and I drew myself up to 
my full height. But — well, one is so used to 
nodding and smiling in the street to anybody 

47 



SEVEN MEN 

whom one knows that the action becomes almost 
independent of oneself : to prevent it requires a 
very sharp effort and great presence of mind. I 
was miserably aware, as I passed the Devil, that I 
nodded and smiled to him. And my shame was the 
deeper and hotter because he, if you please, stared 
straight at me with the utmost haughtiness. 

To be cut — deliberately cut — by him ! I was, I 
still am, furious at having had that happen to me. 



48 



HILARY MALTBY AND 
STEPHEN BRAXTON 



HILARY MALTBY AND 
STEPHEN BRAXTON 



PEOPLE still go on comparing Thackeray and 
Dickens, quite cheerfully. But the fashion 
of comparing Maltby and Braxton went 
out so long ago as 1795. No, I am wrong. But 
anything that happened in the bland old days 
before the war does seem to be a hundred more 
years ago than actually it is. The year I mean 
is the one in whose spring-time we all went bicy- 
cling (O thrill !) in Battersea Park, and ladies 
wore sleeves that billowed enormously out from 
their shoulders, and Lord Rosebery was Prime 
Minister. 

In that Park, in that spring-time, in that sea of 
sleeves, there was almost as much talk about the 
respective merits of Braxton and Maltby as there 
was about those of Rudge and Humber. For the 
benefit of my younger readers, and perhaps, so 
feeble is human memory, for the benefit of their 
elders too, let me state that Rudge and Humber 
were rival makers of bicycles, that Hilary Maltby 

51 



SEVEN MEN 

was the author of ' Ariel in Mayfair,' and Stephen 
Braxton of ' A Faun on the Cotswolds/ 

1 Which do you think is really the best — " Ariel " 
or " A Faun " ? ' Ladies were always asking one 
that question. ' Ob, well, you know, the two are 
so different. It's really very hard to compare 
them.' One was always giving that answer. One 
was not very brilliant perhaps. 

The vogue of the two novels lasted throughout 
the summer. As both were " firstlings,' and Great 
Britain had therefore nothing else of Braxton's or 
Maltby's to fall back on, the horizon was much 
scanned for what Maltby, and what Braxton, 
would give us next. In the autumn Braxton gave 
us his secondling. It was an instantaneous failure. 
No more was he compared with Maltby. In the 
spring of '96 came Maltby's secondling. Its failure 
was instantaneous. Maltby might once more have 
been compared with Braxton. But Braxton was 
now forgotten. So was Maltby. 

This was not kind. This was not just. Maltby's 
first novel, and Braxton's, had brought delight into 
many thousands of homes. People should have 
paused to say of Braxton " Perhaps his third novel 
will be better than his second," and to say as much 
for Maltby. I blame people for having given no 
sign of wanting a third from either ; and I blame 
them with the more zest because neither * A Faun 
on the Cotswolds ' nor t Ariel in Mayfair ' was a 
merely popular book : each, I maintain, was a good 

52 



MALTBY AND BRAXTON 

book. I don't go so far as to say that the one had 
4 more of natural magic, more of British woodland 
glamour, more of the sheer joy of life in it than 
anything since " As You Like It," ' though Higsby 
went so far as this in the Daily Chronicle ; nor can 
I allow the claim made for the other by Grigsby in 
the Globe that ' for pungency of satire there has 
been nothing like it since Swift laid down his pen, 
and for sheer sweetness and tenderness of feeling — 
ex forti dulcedo — nothing to be mentioned in the 
same breath with it since the lute fell from the tired 
hand of Theocritus.' These were foolish exaggera- 
tions. But one must not condemn a thing because 
it has been over-praised. Maltby's 4 Ariel ' was a 
delicate, brilliant work ; and Braxton's ' Faun,' 
crude though it was in many ways, had yet a 
genuine power and beauty. This is not a mere 
impression remembered from early youth. It is the 
reasoned and seasoned judgment of middle age. 
Both books have been out of print for many years ; 
but I secured a second-hand copy of each not long 
ago, and found them well worth reading again. 

From the time of Nathaniel Hawthorne to the 
outbreak of the war, current literature did not suffer 
from any lack of fauns. But when Braxton's first 
book appeared fauns had still an air of novelty 
about them. We had not yet tired of them and 
their hoofs and their slanting eyes and their way of 
coming suddenly out of woods to wean quiet English 
villages from respectability. We did tire later. 

53 



SEVEN MEN 

But Braxton's faun, even now, seems to me an 
admirable specimen of his class — wild and weird, 
earthy, goat-like, almost convincing. And I find 
myself convinced altogether by Braxton's rustics. 
I admit that I do not know much about rustics, 
except from novels. But I plead that the little I do 
know about them by personal observation does not 
confirm much of what the many novelists have 
taught me. I plead also that Braxton may well 
have been right about the rustics of Gloucestershire 
because he was (as so many interviewers recorded 
of him in his brief heyday) the son of a yeoman 
farmer at Far Oakridge, and his boyhood had been 
divided between that village and the Grammar 
School at Stroud. Not long ago I happened to be 
staying in the neighbourhood, and came across 
several villagers who might, I assure you, have 
stepped straight out of Braxton's pages. For that 
matter, Braxton himself, whom I met often in the 
spring of '95, might have stepped straight out of 
his own pages. 

I am guilty of having wished he would step 
straight back into them. He was a very surly 
fellow, very rugged and gruff. He was the anti- 
thesis of pleasant little Maltby. I used to think 
that perhaps he would have been less unamiable if 
success had come to him earlier. He was thirty 
years old when his book was published, and had 
had a very hard time since coming to London at the 
age of sixteen. Little Maltby was a year older, and 

54 



MALTBY AND BRAXTON 

so had waited a year longer ; but then, he had 
waited under a comfortable roof at Twickenham, 
emerging into the metropolis for no grimmer purpose 
than to sit and watch the fashionable riders and 
walkers in Rotten Row, and then going home to 
write a little, or to play lawn-tennis with the young 
ladies of Twickenham. He had been the only child 
of his parents (neither of whom, alas, survived to 
take pleasure in their darling's sudden fame). He 
had now migrated from Twickenham and taken 
rooms in Ryder Street. Had he ever shared with 
Braxton the bread of adversity — but no, I think he 
would in any case have been pleasant. And con- 
versely I cannot imagine that Braxton would in any 
case have been so. 

No one seeing the two rivals together, no one 
meeting them at Mr. Hookworth's famous luncheon 
parties in the Authors' Club, or at Mrs. Foster- 
Dugdale's not less famous garden parties in Greville 
Place, would have supposed off-hand that the pair 
had a single point in common. Dapper little 
Maltby — blond, bland, diminutive Maltby, with his 
monocle and his gardenia ; big black Braxton, with 
his lanky hair and his square blue jaw and his 
square sallow forehead. Canary and crow. Maltby 
had a perpetual chirrup of amusing small-talk. 
Braxton was usually silent, but very well worth 
listening to whenever he did croak. He had dis- 
tinction, I admit it ; the distinction of one who 
steadfastly refuses to adapt himself to surroundings. 

55 



SEVEN MEN 

He stood out. He awed Mr. Hookworth. Ladies 
were always asking one another, rather intently, 
what they thought of him. One could imagine that 
Mr. Foster-Dugdale, had he come home from the 
City to attend the garden parties, might have 
regarded him as one from whom Mrs. Foster-Dugdale 
should be shielded. But the casual observer of 
Braxton and Maltby at Mrs. Foster-Dugdale' s or 
elsewhere was wrong in supposing that the two were 
totally unlike. He overlooked one simple and 
obvious point. This was that he had met them 
both at Mrs. Foster-Dugdale's or elsewhere. Wher- 
ever they were invited, there certainly, there punc- 
tually, they would be. They were both of them 
gluttons for the fruits and signs of their success. 

Interviewers and photographers had as little 
reason as had hostesses to complain of two men so 
earnestly and assiduously 4 on the make ' as Maltby 
and Braxton. Maltby, for all his sparkle, was 
earnest ; Braxton, for all his arrogance, assiduous. 

4 A Faun on the Cotswolds ' had no more eager 
eulogist than the author of * Ariel in Mayfair.' 
When any one praised his work, Maltby would 
lightly disparage it in comparison with Braxton's — 
4 Ah, if I could write like tliat ! ' Maltby won 
golden opinions in this way. Braxton, on the 
other hand, would let slip no opportunity for 
sneering at Maltby 's work — * gimcrack,' as he called 
it. This was not good for Maltby. Different men, 
different methods. 

56 



MALTBY AND BRAXTON 

1 The Rape of the Lock ' was ' gimcrack,' if you 
care to call it so ; but it was a delicate, brilliant 
work ; and so, I repeat, was Maltby's J Ariel.' 
Absurd to compare Maltby with Pope ? I am not 
so sure. I have read 4 Ariel,' but have never read 
4 The Rape of the Lock.' Braxton's opprobrious 
term for 4 Ariel ' may not, however, have been due 
to jealousy alone. Braxton had imagination, and 
his rival did not soar above fancy. But the point 
is that Maltby's fancifulness went far and well. In 
telling how Ariel re-embodied himself from thin air, 
leased a small house in Chesterfield Street, was 
presented at a Levee, played the part of good fairy 
in a matter of true love not running smooth, and 
worked meanwhile all manner of amusing changes 
among the aristocracy before be vanished again, 
Maltby showed a very pretty range of ingenuity. 
In one respect, his work was a more surprising 
achievement than Braxton's. For whereas Braxton 
had been born and bred among his rustics, Maltby 
knew his aristocrats only through Thackeray, 
through the photographs and paragraphs in the 
newspapers, and through those passionate excursions 
of his to Rotten Row. Yet I found his aristocrats 
as convincing as Braxton's rustics. It is true that 
I may have been convinced wrongly. That is a 
point which I could settle only by experience. I 
shift my ground, claiming for Maltby's aristocrats 
just this : that they pleased me very much. 

Aristocrats, when they are presented solely 
57 



SEVEN MEN 

through a novelist's sense of beauty, do not satisfy 
us. They may be as beautiful as all that, but, for 
fear of thinking ourselves snobbish, we won't believe 
it. We do believe it, however, and revel in it, when 
the novelist saves his face and ours by a pervading 
irony in the treatment of what he loves. The 
irony must, mark you, be pervading and obvious. 
Disraeli's great ladies and lords won't do, for his 
irony was but latent in his homage, and thus the 
reader feels himself called on to worship and in duty 
bound to scoff. All's well, though, when the homage 
is latent in the irony. Thackeray, inviting us to 
laugh and frown over the follies of Mayfair, enables 
us to reel with him in a secret orgy of veneration 
for those fools. 

Maltby, too, in his measure, enabled us to reel 
thus. That is mainly why, before the end of April, 
his publisher was in a position to state that 4 the 
Seventh Large Impression of " Ariel in Mayfair " is 
almost exhausted.' Let it be put to our credit, 
however, that at the same moment Braxton's 
publisher had 4 the honour to inform the public that 
an Eighth Large Impression of " A Faun on the 
Cotswolds " is in instant preparation.' 

Indeed, it seemed impossible for either author to 
outvie the other in success and glory. Week in, 
week out, you saw cancelled either's every momen- 
tary advantage. A neck-and-neck race. As thus : 
— Maltby appears as a Celebrity At Home in the 
World (Tuesday). Ha ! No, Vanity Fair (Wednes- 

58 



MALTBY AND BRAXTON 

day) has a perfect presentment of Braxton by 
4 Spy.' Neck-and-neck ! No, Vanity Fair says ' the 
subject of next week's cartoon will be Mr. Hilary 
Maltby.' Maltby wins ! No, next week Braxton's 
in the World. 

Throughout May I kept, as it were, my eyes 
glued to my field-glasses. On the first Monday in 
June I saw that which drew from me a hoarse 
ejaculation. 

Let me explain that always on Monday mornings 
at this time of year, when I opened my daily paper, 
I looked with respectful interest to see what bevy 
of the great world had been entertained since 
Saturday at Keeb Hall. The list was always 
august and inspiring. Statecraft and Diplomacy 
were well threaded there with mere Lineage and 
mere Beauty, with Royalty sometimes, with mere 
Wealth never, with privileged Genius now and then. 
A noble composition always. It was said that the 
Duke of Hertfordshire cared for nothing but his 
collection of birds' eggs, and that the collections of 
guests at Keeb were formed entirely by his young 
Duchess. It was said that he had climbed trees in 
every corner of every continent. The Duchess' 
hobby was easier. She sat aloft and beckoned 
desirable specimens up. 

The list published on that first Monday in June 
began ordinarily enough, began with the Austro- 
Hungarian Ambassador and the Portuguese Minister. 
Then came the Duke and Duchess of Mull, followed 

59 



SEVEN MEN 

by four lesser Peers (two of them Proconsuls, 
however) with their Peeresses, three Peers without 
their Peeresses, four Peeresses without their Peers, 
and a dozen bearers of courtesy-titles with or 
without their wives or husbands. The rear was 
brought up by ' Mr. A. J. Balfour, Mr. Henry 
Chaplin, and Mr. Hilary Maltby.' 

Youth tends to look at the darker side of things. 
I confess that my first thought was for Braxton. 

I forgave and forgot his faults of manner. Youth 
is generous. It does not criticise a strong man 
stricken. 

And anon, so habituated was I to the parity of 
those two strivers, I conceived that there might be 
some mistake. Daily newspapers are printed in a 
hurry. Might not ' Henry Chaplin ' be a typo- 
graphical error for 4 Stephen Braxton ' ? I went 
out and bought another newspaper. But Mr. 
Chaplin's name was in that too. 

4 Patience ! ' I said to myself. ' Braxton crouches 
only to spring. He will be at Keeb Hall on Saturday 
next.' 

My mind was free now to dwell with pleasure on 
Maltby's great achievement. I thought of writing 
to congratulate him, but feared this might be in 
bad taste. I did, however, write asking him to 
lunch with me. He did not answer my letter. I 
was, therefore, all the more sorry, next Monday, at 
not finding ! and Mr. Stephen Braxton ' in Keeb's 
week-end catalogue. 

60 



MALTBY AND BRAXTON 

A few days later I met Mr. Hookworth. He 
mentioned that Stephen Braxton had left town. 
4 He has taken,' said Hookworth, ' a delightful 
bungalow on the east coast. He has gone there to 
work? He added that he had a great liking for 
Braxton — ' a man utterly unspoilt? I inferred that 
he, too, had written to Maltby and received no 
answer. 

That butterfly did not, however, appear to be 
hovering from flower to flower in the parterres of 
rank and fashion. In the daily lists of guests at 
dinners, receptions, dances, balls, the name of 
Maltby figured never. Maltby Tiad not caught on. 

Presently I heard that he, too, had left town. I 
gathered that he had gone quite early in June — 
quite soon after Keeb. Nobody seemed to know 
where he was. My own theoiy was that he had 
taken a delightful bungalow on the west coast, to 
balance Braxton. Anyhow, the parity of the two 
strivers was now somewhat re-established. 

In point of fact, the disparity had been less than 
I supposed. While Maltby was at Keeb, there 
Braxton was also — in a sense. . . It was a strange 
story. I did not hear it at the time. Nobody did. 
I heard it seventeen years later. I heard it in 
Lucca. 

Little Lucca I found so enchanting that, though 
I had only a day or two to spare, I stayed there a 
whole month. I formed the habit of walking, every 

61 



SEVEN MEN 

morning, round that high-pitched path which 
girdles Lucca, that wide and tree-shaded path from 
which one looks down over the city wall at the 
fertile plains beneath Lucca. There were never 
many people there ; but the few who did come 
came daily, so that I grew to like seeing them and 
took a mild personal interest in them. 

One of them was an old lady in a wheeled chair. 
She was not less than seventy years old, and might 
or might not have once been beautiful. Her chair 
was slowly propelled by an Italian woman. She 
herself was obviously Italian. Not so, however, the 
little gentleman who walked assiduously beside 
her. Him I guessed to be English. He was a very 
stout little gentleman, with gleaming spectacles and 
a full blond beard, and he seemed to radiate cheer- 
fulness. I thought at first that he might be the 
old lady's resident physician ; but no, there was 
something subtly un-professional about him : I 
became sure that his constancy was gratuitous, and 
his radiance real. And one day, I know not how, 
there dawned on me a suspicion that he was — 
who ? — some one I had known — some writer — 
what's-his-name — something with an M — Maltby — 
Hilary Maltby of the long-ago ! 

At sight of him on the morrow this suspicion 
hardened almost to certainty. I wished I could 
meet him alone and ask him if I were not right, and 
what he had been doing all these years, and why 
he had left England. He was always with the old 



MALTBY AND BRAXTON 

lady. It was only on my last day in Lucca that 
my chance came. 

I had just lunched, and was seated on a com- 
fortable bench outside my hotel, with a cup of 
coffee on the table before me, gazing across the 
faded old sunny piazza and wondering what to do 
with my last afternoon. It was then that I espied 
yonder the back of the putative Maltby. I hastened 
forth to him. He was buying some pink roses, a 
great bunch of them, from a market-woman under 
an umbrella. He looked very blank, he flushed 
greatly, when I ventured to accost him. He 
admitted that his name was Hilary Maltby. I told 
him my own name, and by degrees he remembered 
me. He apologised for his confusion. He explained 
that he had not talked English, had not talked to 
an Englishman, ' for — oh, hundreds of years.' He 
said that he had, in the course of his long residence 
in Lucca, seen two or three people whom he had 
known in England, but that none of them had 
recognised him. He accepted (but as though he 
were embarking on the oddest adventure in the 
world) my invitation that he should come and sit 
down and take coffee with me. He laughed with 
pleasure and surprise at finding that he could still 
speak his native tongue quite fluently and idioma- 
tically. * I know absolutely nothing,' he said, 
4 about England nowadays — except from stray 
references to it in the Corriere della Sera ' ; nor did 
he show the faintest desire that I should enlighten 

63 



SEVEN MEN 

him. 4 England,' he mused, ' — how it all comes 
back to me ! ' 

4 But not you to it ? ' 

1 Ah, no indeed,' he said gravely, looking at the 
roses which he had laid carefully on the marble 
table. • I am the happiest of men.' 

He sipped his coffee, and stared out across the 
piazza, out beyond it into the past. 

4 1 am the happiest of men,' he repeated. I plied 
him with the spur of silence. 

* And I owe it all to having once yielded to a bad 
impulse. Absurd, the threads our destinies hang on ! ' 

Again I plied him with that spur. As it seemed 
not to prick him, I repeated the words he had last 
spoken. ' For instance ? ' I added. 

1 Take,' he said, * a certain evening in the spring 
of '95. If, on that evening, the Duchess of Hert- 
fordshire had had a bad cold ; or if she had decided 
that it wouldn't be rather interesting to go on to 
that party — that Annual Soiree, I think it was — of 
the Inkwomen's Club ; or again — to go a step 
further back — if she hadn't ever written that one 
little poem, and if it hadn't been printed in " The 
Gentlewoman," and if the Inkwomen's committee 
hadn't instantly and unanimously elected ber an 
Honorary Vice-President because of that one little 
poem ; or if — well, if a million-and-one utterly 
irrelevant things hadn't happened, don't-you-know, 
I shouldn't be here ... I might be there, 9 he 
smiled, with a vague gesture indicating England. 

64 



MALTBY AND BRAXTON 

4 Suppose,' he went on, ' I hadn't been invited 
to that Annual Soiree ; or suppose that other 
fellow— ' 

4 Braxton ? ' I suggested. I had remembered 
Braxton at the moment of recognising Maltby. 

4 Suppose lie hadn't been asked. . . But of course 
we both were. It happened that I was the first to 
be presented to the Duchess. . . It was a great 
moment. I hoped I should keep my head. She 
wore a tiara. I had often seen women in tiaras, 
at the Opera. But I had never talked to a woman 
in a tiara. Tiaras were symbols to me. Eyes are 
just a human feature. I fixed mine on the Duchess's. 
I kept my head by not looking at hers. I behaved 
as one human being to another. She seemed very 
intelligent. We got on very well. Presently she 
asked whether I should think her very bold if she 
said how perfectly divine she thought my book. I 
said something about doing my best, and asked 
with animation whether she had read " A Faun on 
the Cotswolds." She had. She said it was too 
wonderful, she said it was too great. If she hadn't 
been a Duchess, I might have thought her slightly 
hysterical. Her innate good-sense quickly reasserted 
itself. She used her great power. With a wave of 
her magic wand she turned into a fact the glittering 
possibility that had haunted me. She asked me 
down to Keeb. 

4 She seemed very pleased that I would come. 
Was I, by any chance, free on Saturday week ? She 

65 E 



SEVEN MEN 

hoped there would be some amusing people to meet 
me. Could I come by the 3.30 ? It was only an 
hour-and-a-quarter from Victoria. On Saturday 
there were always compartments reserved for people 
coming to Keeb by the 3.30. She hoped I would 
bring my bicycle with me. She hoped I wouldn't 
find it very dull. She hoped I wouldn't forget to 
come. She said how lovely it must be to spend 
one's life among clever people. She supposed I 
knew everybody here to-night. She asked me to 
tell her who everybody was. She asked who was 
the tall, dark man, over there. I told her it was 
Stephen Braxton. She said they had promised to 
introduce her to him. She added that he looked 
rather wonderful. " Oh, he is, very," I assured 
her. She turned to me with a sudden appeal : 
" Do you think, if I took my courage in both hands 
and asked him, he'd care to come to Keeb ? " 

1 1 hesitated. It would be easy to say that Satan 
answered for me ; easy but untrue ; it was I that 
babbled : " Well — as a matter of fact — since you 
ask me — if I were you — really I think you'd better 
not. He's very odd in some ways. He has an 
extraordinary hatred of sleeping out of London. 
He has the real Gloucestershire love of London. At 
the same time, he's very shy ; and if you asked him 
he wouldn't very well know how to refuse. I think 
it would be kinder not to ask him." 

* At that moment, Mrs. Wilpham — the President 
— loomed up to us, bringing Braxton. He bore 

66 



MALTBY AND BRAXTON 

himself well. Rough dignity with a touch of 
mellowness. I daresay you never saw him smile. 
He smiled gravely down at the Duchess, while she 
talked in her pretty little quick humble way. He 
made a great impression. 

4 What I had done was not merely base : it was 
very dangerous. I was in terror that she might 
rally him on his devotion to London. I didn't dare 
to move away. I was immensely relieved when at 
length she said she must be going. 

4 Braxton seemed loth to relax his grip on her 
hand at parting. I feared she wouldn't escape 
without uttering that invitation. But all was 
well. . . In saying good night to me, she added in 
a murmur, " Don't forget Keeb — Saturday week — 
the 3.30." Merely an exquisite murmur. But 
Braxton heard it. I knew, by the diabolical look 
he gave me, that Braxton had heard it. . . If he 
hadn't, I shouldn't be here. 

4 Was I a prey to remorse ? Well, in the days 
between that Soiree and that Saturday, remorse 
often claimed me, but rapture wouldn't give me 
up. Arcady, Olympus, the right people, at last ! I 
hadn't realised how good my book was — not till it 
got me this guerdon ; not till I got it this huge 
advertisement. I foresaw how pleased my publisher 
would be. In some great houses, I knew, it was 
possible to stay without any one knowing you had 
been there. But the Duchess of Hertfordshire hid 
her light under no bushel. Exclusive she was, but 

67 



SEVEN MEN 

not of publicity. Next to Windsor Castle, Keeb 
Hall was the most advertised house in all England. 

4 Meanwhile, I had plenty to do. I rather thought 
of engaging a valet, but decided that this wasn't 
necessary. On the other hand, I felt a need for 
three new summer suits, and a new evening suit, 
and some new white waistcoats. Also a smoking 
suit. And had any man ever stayed at Keeb 
without a dressing-case ? Hitherto I had been 
content with a pair of wooden brushes, and so forth. 
I was afraid these would appal the footman who 
unpacked my things. I ordered, for his sake, a 
large dressing-case, with my initials engraved 
throughout it. It looked compromisingly new when 
it came to me from the shop. I had to kick it 
industriously, and throw it about and scratch it, so 
as to avert possible suspicion. The tailor did not 
send my things home till the Friday evening. I 
had to sit up late, wearing the new suits in rotation. 

' Next day, at Victoria, I saw strolling on the 
platform many people, male and female, who 
looked as if they were going to Keeb — tall, cool, 
ornate people who hadn't packed their own things 
and had reached Victoria in broughams. I was 
ornate, but not tall nor cool. My porter was rather 
off-hand in his manner as he wheeled my things 
along to the 3.30. I asked severely if there were 
any compartments reserved for people going to , stay 
with the Duke of Hertfordshire. This worked an 
instant change in him. Having set me in one of 

68 



MALTBY AND BRAXTON 

those shrines, he seemed almost loth to accept a 
tip. A snob, I am afraid. 

4 A selection of the tall, the cool, the ornate, the 
intimately acquainted with one another, soon filled 
the compartment. There I was, and I think they 
felt they ought to try to bring me into the conversa- 
tion. As they were all talking about a cotillion of 
the previous night, I shouldn't have been able to 
shine. I gazed out of the window, with middle- 
class aloofness. Presently the talk drifted on to 
the topic of bicycles. But by this time it was too 
late for me to come in. 

4 1 gazed at the squalid outskirts of London as 
they flew by. I doubted, as I listened to my fellow- 
passengers, whether I should be able to shine at 
Keeb. I rather wished I were going to spend the 
week-end at one of those little houses with back- 
gardens beneath the railway-line. I was filled with 
fears. 

4 For shame ! thought I. Was I nobody ? Was 
the author of " Ariel in Mayfair " nobody ? 

4 1 reminded myself how glad Braxton would be 
if he knew of my faint-heartedness. I thought of 
Braxton sitting, at this moment, in his room in 
Clifford's Inn and glowering with envy of his hated 
rival in the 3.30. And after all, how enviable I 
was ! My spirits rose. I would acquit myself 
well. . . 

4 1 much admired the scene at the little railway 
station where we alighted. It was like a fite by 



SEVEN MEN 

Lancret. I knew from the talk of my fellow- 
passengers that some people had been going down 
by an earlier train, and that others were coming 
by a later. But the 3.30 had brought a full 
score of us. Us ! That was the final touch of 
beauty. 

4 Outside there were two broughams, a landau, 
dog-carts, a phaeton, a wagonette, I know not what. 
But almost everybody, it seemed, was going to 
bicycle. Lady Rodfitten said she was going to 
bicycle. Year after year, I had seen that famous 
Countess riding or driving in the Park. I had been 
told at fourth hand that she had a masculine 
intellect and could make and unmake Ministries. 
She was nearly sixty now, a trifle dyed and stout 
and weather-beaten, but still tremendously hand- 
some, and hard as nails. One would not have said 
she had grown older, but merely that she belonged 
now to a rather later period of the Roman Empire. 
I had never dreamed of a time when one roof would 
shelter Lady Rodfitten and me. Somehow, she 
struck my imagination more than any of these 
others — more than Count Deym, more than Mr. 
Balfour, more than the lovely Lady Thisbe 
Crowborough. 

1 1 might have had a ducal vehicle all to myself, 
and should have liked that ; but it seemed more 
correct that I should use my bicycle. On the other 
hand, I didn't want to ride with all these people — a 
stranger in their midst. I lingered around the 

70 



MALTBY AND BRAXTON 

luggage till they were off, and then followed at a 
long distance. 

4 The sun had gone behind clouds. But I rode 
slowly, so as to be sure not to arrive hot. I passed, 
not without a thrill, through the massive open 
gates into the Duke's park. A massive man with 
a cockade saluted me — hearteningly — from the door 
of the lodge. The park seemed endless. I came, at 
length, to a long straight avenue of elms that were 
almost blatantly immemorial. At the end of it was 
— well, I felt like a gnat going to stay in a public 
building. 

4 If there had been turnstiles — in and out — and 
a shilling to pay, I should have felt easier as I 
passed into that hall — that Palladio-Gargantuan 
hall. Some one, some butler or groom-of-the- 
chamber, murmured that her Grace was in the 
garden. I passed out through the great opposite 
doorway on to a wide spectacular terrace with 
lawns beyond. Tea was on the nearest of these 
lawns. In the central group of people — some 
standing, others sitting — I espied the Duchess. She 
sat pouring out tea, a deft and animated little 
figure. I advanced firmly down the steps from the 
terrace, feeling that all would be well so soon as I 
had reported myself to the Duchess. 

1 But I had a staggering surprise on my way to 
her. I espied in one of the smaller groups — whom 
d'you think ? Braxton. 

4 1 had no time to wonder how he had got there — 
71 



SEVEN MEN 

time merely to grasp the black fact that he was 
there. 

4 The Duchess seemed really pleased to see me. 
She said it was too splendid of me to come. " You 
know Mr. Maltby ? " she asked Lady Rodfitten, who 
exclaimed " Not Mr. Hilary Maltby ? " with a 
vigorous grace that was overwhelming. Lady Rod- 
fitten declared she was the greatest of my admirers ; 
and I could well believe that in whatever she did 
she excelled all competitors. On the other hand, I 
found it hard to believe she was afraid of me. Yet 
I had her word for it that she was. 

4 Her womanly charm gave place now to her 
masculine grip. She eulogised me in the language 
of a seasoned reviewer on the staff of a long- 
established journal — wordy perhaps, but sound. I 
revered and loved her. I wished I could give her 
my undivided attention. But, whilst I sat there, 
teacup in hand, between her and the Duchess, part 
of my brain was fearfully concerned with that 
glimpse I had had of Braxton. It didn't so much 
matter that he was here to halve my triumph. But 
suppose he knew what I had told the Duchess ! 
And suppose he had — no, surely if he had shown me 
up in all my meanness she wouldn't have received 
me so very cordially. I wondered where she could 
have met him since that evening of the Ink women. 
I heard Lady Rodfitten concluding her review of 
44 Ariel " with two or three sentences that might 
have been framed specially to give the publisher an 

72 



MALTBY AND BRAXTON 

easy " quote." And then I heard myself asking 
mechanically whether she had read " A Faun on 
the Cotswolds." The Duchess heard me too. She 
turned from talking to other people and said " I 
did like Mr. Braxton so very much." 

1 " Yes," I threw out with a sickly smile, " I'm 
so glad you asked him to come." 

4 " But I didn't ask him. I didn't dare" 

1 " But — but — surely he wouldn't be — be here 
if—" We stared at each other blankly. " Here ? " 
she echoed, glancing at the scattered little groups 
of people on the lawn. I glanced too. I was much 
embarrassed. I explained that I had seen Braxton 
" standing just over there " when I arrived, and 
had supposed he was one of the people who came 
by the earlier train. " Well," she said with a 
slightly irritated laugh, " you must have mistaken 
some one else for him." She dropped the subject, 
talked to other people, and presently moved away. 

4 Surely, thought I, she didn't suspect me of 
trying to make fun of her ? On the other hand, 
surely she hadn't conspired with Braxton to make 
a fool of me ? And yet, how could Braxton be here 
without an invitation, and without her knowledge ? 
My brain whirled. One thing only was clear. I 
could not have mistaken anybody for Braxton. 
There Braxton had stood — Stephen Braxton, in 
that old pepper-and-salt suit of his, with his red tie 
all askew, and without a hat — his hair hanging over 
his forehead. All this I had seen sharp and clean- 

73 



SEVEN MEN 

cut. There he had stood, just beside one of the 
women who travelled down in the same compart- 
ment as I ; a very pretty woman in a pale blue 
dress ; a tall woman — but I had noticed how small 
she looked beside Braxton. This woman was now 
walking to and fro, yonder, with M. de Soveral. I 
had seen Braxton beside her as clearly as I now saw 
M. de Soveral. 

4 Lady Rodfitten was talking about India to a 
recent Viceroy. She seemed to have as firm a grip 
of India as of " Ariel." I sat forgotten. I wanted 
to arise and wander off — in a vague search for 
Braxton. But I feared this might look as if I were 
angry at being ignored. Presently Lady Rodfitten 
herself arose, to have what she called her " annual 
look round." She bade me come too, and strode off 
between me and the recent Viceroy, noting improve- 
ments that had been made in the grounds, suggest- 
ing improvements that might be made, indicating 
improvements that must be made. She was great 
on landscape-gardening. The recent Viceroy was 
less great on it, but great enough. I don't say I 
walked forgotten : the eminent woman constantly 
asked my opinion ; but my opinion, though of 
course it always coincided with hers, sounded quite 
worthless, somehow. I longed to shine. I could 
only bother about Braxton. 

' Lady Rodfitten's voice sounded over-strong for 
the stillness of evening. The shadows lengthened. 
My spirits sank lower and lower, with the sun. I 

74 



MALTBY AND BRAXTON 

was a naturally cheerful person, but always, towards 
sunset, I had a vague sense of melancholy : I 
seemed always to have grown weaker ; morbid 
misgivings would come to me. On this particular 
evening there was one such misgiving that crept in 
and out of me again and again ... a very horrible 
misgiving as to the nature of what I had seen. 

4 Well, dressing for dinner is a great tonic. 
Especially if one shaves. My spirits rose as I 
lathered my face. I smiled to my reflection in the 
mirror. The afterglow of the sun came through the 
window behind the dressing-table, but I had switched 
on all the lights. My new silver-topped bottles and 
things made a fine array. To-night I" was going to 
shine, too. I felt I might yet be the life and soul 
of the party. Anyway, my new evening suit was 
without a fault. And meanwhile this new razor 
was perfect. Having shaved " down," I lathered 
myself again and proceeded to shave " up." It 
was then that I uttered a sharp sound and swung 
round on my heel. 

4 No one was there. Yet this I knew : Stephen 
Braxton had just looked over my shoulder. I had 
seen the reflection of his face beside mine — craned 
forward to the mirror. I had met his eyes. 

4 He had been with me. This I knew. 

4 1 turned to look again at that mirror. One of 
my cheeks was all covered with blood. I stanched 
it with a towel. Three long cuts where the razor 
had slipped and skipped. I plunged the towel into 

75 



SEVEN MEN 

cold water and held it to my cheek. The bleeding 
went on — alarmingly. I rang the bell. No one 
came. I vowed I wouldn't bleed to death for 
Braxton. I rang again. At last a very tall 
powdered footman appeared — more reproachful- 
looking than sympathetic, as though I hadn't 
ordered that dressing-case specially on his behalf. 
He said he thought one of the housemaids would 
have some sticking-plaster. He was very sorry he 
was needed downstairs, but he would tell one of the 
housemaids. I continued to dab and to curse. 
The blood flowed less. I showed great spirit. I 
vowed Braxton should not prevent me from going 
down to dinner. 

4 But — a pretty sight I was when I did go down. 
Pale but determined, with three long strips of black 
sticking-plaster forming a sort of Z on my left 
cheek. Mr. Hilary Maltby at Keeb. Literature's 
Ambassador. 

4 1 don't know how late I was. Dinner was in 
full swing. Some servant piloted me to my place. 
I sat down unobserved. The woman on either side 
of me was talking to her other neighbour. I was 
near the Duchess' end of the table. Soup was 
served to me — that dark-red soup that you pour 
cream into — Bortsch. I felt it would steady me. 
I raised the first spoonful to my lips, and — my 
hand gave a sudden jerk. 

4 1 was aware of two separate horrors — a horror 
that had been, a horror that was. Braxton had 

76 



MALTBY AND BRAXTON 

vanished. Not for more than an instant had he 
stood scowling at me from behind the opposite 
diners. Not for more than the fraction of an 
instant. But he-had left his mark on me. I gazed 
down with a frozen stare at my shirtfront, at my 
white waistcoat, both dark with Bortsch. I rubbed 
them with a napkin. I made them worse. 

' I looked at my glass of champagne. I raised it 
carefully and drained it at one draught. It nerved 
me. But behind that shirtfront was a broken 
heart. 

1 The woman on my left was Lady Thisbe Crow- 
borough. I don't know who was the woman on 
my right. She was the first to turn and see me. I 
thought it best to say something about my shirt- 
front at once. I said it to her sideways, without 
showing my left cheek. Her handsome eyes rested 
on the splashes. She said, after a moment's 
thought, that they looked " rather gay." She said 
she thought the eternal black and white of men's 
evening clothes was " so very dreary." She did her 
best. . . Lady Thisbe Crowborough did her best, 
too, I suppose ; but breeding isn't proof against 
all possible shocks : she visibly started at sight of 
me and my Z. I explained that I had cut myself 
shaving. I said, with an attempt at lightness, that 
shy men ought always to cut themselves shaving : 
it made such a good conversational opening. " But 
surely," she said after a pause, " you don't cut 
yourself on purpose ? " She was an abysmal fool. 

77 



SEVEN MEN 

I didn't think so at the time. She was Lady 
Thisbe Crowborough. This fact hallowed her. That 
we didn't get on at all well was a misfortune for 
which I blamed only myself and my repulsive 
appearance and — the unforgettable horror that 
distracted me. Nor did I blame Lady Thisbe for 
turning rather soon to the man on her other side. 

' The woman on my right was talking to the man 
on her other side ; so that I was left a prey to 
secret memory and dread. I wasn't wondering, 
wasn't attempting to explain ; I was merely re- 
membering — and dreading. And — how odd one is ! 
— on the top-layer of my consciousness I hated to 
be seen talking to no one. Mr. Maltby at Keeb. I 
caught the Duchess' eye once or twice, and she 
nodded encouragingly, as who should say " You 
do look rather awful, and you do seem rather out 
of it, but I don't for a moment regret having asked 
you to come." Presently I had another chance of 
talking. I heard myself talk. My feverish anxiety 
to please rather touched me. But I noticed that 
the eyes of my listener wandered. And yet I was 
sorry when the ladies went away. I had a sense of 
greater exposure. Men who hadn't seen me saw me 
now. The Duke, as he came round to the Duchess' 
end of the table, must have wondered who I was. 
But he shyly offered me his hand as he passed, and 
said it was so good of me to come. I had thought 
of slipping away to put on another shirt and waist- 
coat, but had decided that this would make me the 

78 



MALTBY AND BRAXTON 

more ridiculous. I sat drinking port — poison to me 
after champagne, but a lulling poison — and listened 
to noblemen with unstained shirtfronts talking 
about the Australian cricket match. . . 

4 Is Rubicon Bezique still played in England ? 
There was a mania for it at that time. The floor of 
Keeb's Palladio-Gargantuan hall was dotted with 
innumerable little tables. I didn't know how to 
play. My hostess told me I must " come and 
amuse the dear old Duke and Duchess of Mull," and 
led me to a remote sofa on which an old gentleman 
had just sat down beside an old lady. They looked 
at me with a dim kind interest. My hostess had 
set me and left me on a small gilt chair in front of 
them. Before going she had conveyed to them 
loudly — one of them was very deaf — that I was 
" the famous writer." It was a long time before 
they understood that I was not a political writer. 
The Duke asked me, after a troubled pause, whether 
I had known " old Mr. Abraham Hayward." The 
Duchess said I was too young to have known Mr. 
Hayward, and asked if I knew her " clever friend 
Mr. Mallock." I said I had just been reading Mr. 
Mallock's new novel. I heard myself shouting a 
confused precis of the plot. The place where we 
were sitting was near the foot of the great marble 
staircase. I said how beautiful the staircase was. 
The Duchess of Mull said she had never cared very 
much for that staircase. The Duke, after a pause, 
said he had " often heard old Mr. Abraham Hayward 

79 



SEVEN MEN 

hold a whole dinner table." There were long and 
frequent pauses — between which I heard myself 
talking loudly, frantically, sinking lower and lower 
in the esteem of my small audience. I felt like a 
man drowning under the eyes of an elderly couple 
who sit on the bank regretting that they can offer 
no assistance. Presently the Duke looked at his 
watch and said to the Duchess that it was " time to 
be thinking of bed." 

' They rose, as it were from the bank, and left 
me, so to speak, under water. I watched them as 
they passed slowly out of sight up the marble stair- 
case which I had mispraised. I turned and surveyed 
the brilliant, silent scene presented by the card- 
players. 

" I wondered what old Mr. Abraham Hay ward 
would have done in my place. Would he have just 
darted in among those tables and " held " them ? 
I presumed that he would not have stolen silently 
away, quickly and cravenly away, up the marble 
staircase — as / did. 

4 1 don't know which was the greater, the relief 
or the humiliation of finding myself in my bedroom. 
Perhaps the humiliation was the greater. There, on 
a chair, was my grand new smoking-suit, laid out 
for me — what a mockery ! Once I had foreseen 
myself wearing it in the smoking-room at a late 
hour — the centre of a group of eminent men en- 
tranced by the brilliancy of my conversation. And 
now — ! I was nothing but a small, dull, soup- 

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MALTBY AND BRAXTON 

stained, sticking-plastered, nerve-racked recluse. 
Nerves, yes. I assured myself that I had not seen 
— what I had seemed to see. All very odd, of 
course, and very unpleasant, but easily explained. 
Nerves. Excitement of coming to Keeb too much 
for me. A good night's rest : that was all I needed. 
To-morrow I should laugh at myself. 

' I wondered that I wasn't tired physically. 
There my grand new silk pyjamas were, yet I felt 
no desire to go to bed . . . none while it was still 
possible for me to go. The little writing-table at 
the foot of my bed seemed to invite me. I had 
brought with me in my portmanteau a sheaf of 
letters, letters that I had purposely left unanswered 
in order that I might answer them on Keeb Hall 
note-paper. These the footman had neatly laid 
beside the blotting-pad on that little writing-table 
at the foot of the bed. I regretted that the note- 
paper stacked there had no ducal coronet on it. 
What matter ? The address sufficed. If I hadn't 
yet made a good impression on the people who were 
staying here, I could at any rate make one on the 
people who weren't. I sat down. I set to work. 
I wrote a prodigious number of fluent and graceful 
notes. 

1 Some of these were to strangers who wanted my 
autograph. I was always delighted to send my 
autograph, and never perfunctory in the manner of 
sending it. . . " Dear Madam," I remember writing 
to somebody that night, " were it not that you 

81 F 



SEVEN MEN 

make your request for it so charmingly, I should 
hesitate to send you that which rarity alone can 
render valuable. — Yours truly, Hilary Maltby." I 
remember reading this over and wondering whether 
the word " render " looked rather commercial. It 
was in the act of wondering thus that I raised my 
eyes from the note-paper and saw, through the bars 
of the brass bedstead, the naked sole of a large 
human foot — saw beyond it the calf of a great leg ; 
a nightshirt ; and the face of Stephen Braxton. I 
did not move. 

4 1 thought of making a dash for the door, dashing 
out into the corridor, shouting at the top of my 
voice for help. I sat quite still. 

* What kept me to my chair was the fear that if 
I tried to reach the door Braxton would spring off 
the bed to intercept me. If I sat quite still perhaps 
he wouldn't move. I felt that if he moved I 
should collapse utterly. 

4 1 watched him, and he watched me. He lay 
there with his body half-raised, one elbow propped 
on the pillow, his jaw sunk on his breast ; and from 
under his black brows he watched me steadily. 

' No question of mere nerves now. That hope 
was gone. No mere optical delusion, this abiding 
presence. Here Braxton was. He and I were 
together in the bright, silent room. How long 
would he be content to watch me ? 

4 Eleven nights ago he had given me one horrible 
look. It was this look that I had to meet, in 

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MALTBY AND BRAXTON 

infinite prolongation, now, not daring to shift my 
eyes. He lay as motionless as I sat. I did not 
hear him breathing, but I knew, by the rise and 
fall of his chest under his nightshirt, that he was 
breathing heavily.- Suddenly I started to my feet. 
For he had moved. He had raised one hand 
slowly. He was stroking his chin. And as he did 
so, and as he watched me, his mouth gradually 
slackened to a grin. It was worse, it was more 
malign, this grin, than the scowl that remained with 
it ; and its immediate effect on me was an impulse 
that was as hard to resist as it was hateful. The 
window was open. It was nearer to me than the 
door. I could have reached it in time. . . 

' Well, I live to tell the tale. I stood my ground. 
And there dawned on me now a new fact in regard 
to my companion. I had all the while been conscious 
of something abnormal in his attitude — a lack of 
ease in his gross possessiveness. I saw now the 
reason for this effect. The pillow on which his 
elbow rested was still uniformly puffed and convex ; 
like a pillow untouched. His elbow rested but on 
the very surface of it, not changing the shape of it 
at all. His body made not the least furrow along 
the bed. . . He had no weight. 

" I knew that if I leaned forward and thrust my 
hand between those brass rails, to clutch his foot, 
I should clutch — nothing. He wasn't tangible. He 
was realistic. He wasn't real. He was opaque. 
He wasn't solid. 

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SEVEN MEN 

1 Odd as it may seem to you, these certainties 
took the edge off my horror. During that walk 
with Lady Rodfitten, I had been appalled by the 
doubt that haunted me. But now the very con- 
firmation of that doubt gave me a sort of courage : 
I could cope better with anything to-night than 
with actual Braxton. And the measure of the 
relief I felt is that I sat down again on my chair. 

4 More than once there came to me a wild hope 
that the thing might be an optical delusion, after 
all. Then would I shut my eyes tightly, shaking 
my head sharply ; but, when I looked again, there 
the presence was, of course. It — he — not actual 
Braxton but, roughly speaking, Braxton — had come 
to stay. I was conscious of intense fatigue, taut 
and alert though every particle of me was ; so that 
I became, in the course of that ghastly night, 
conscious of a great envy also. For some time 
before the dawn came in through the window, 
Braxton's eyes had been closed ; little by little now 
his head drooped sideways, then fell on his forearm 
and rested there. He was asleep. 

4 Cut off from sleep, I had a great longing for 
smoke. I had cigarettes on me, I had matches on 
me. But I didn't dare to strike a match. The 
sound might have waked Braxton up. In slumber 
he was less terrible, though perhaps more odious. I 
wasn't so much afraid now as indignant. " It's 
intolerable," I sat saying to myself, " utterly 
intolerable ! " 

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MALTBY AND BRAXTON 

' I had to bear it, nevertheless. I was aware that 
I had, in some degree, brought it on myself. If I 
hadn't interfered and lied, actual Braxton would 
have been here at Keeb, and I at this moment 
sleeping soundly. But this was no excuse for 
Braxton. Braxton didn't know what I had done. 
He was merely envious of me. And — wanly I 
puzzled it out in the dawn — by very force of the 
envy, hatred, and malice in him he had projected 
hither into my presence this simulacrum of himself. 
I had known that he would be thinking of me. I 
had known that the thought of me at Keeb Hall 
would be of the last bitterness to his most sacred 
feelings. But — I had reckoned without the pas- 
sionate force and intensity of the man's nature. 

' If by this same strength and intensity he had 
merely projected himself as an invisible guest under 
the Duchess' roof — if his feat had been wholly, as 
perhaps it was in part, a feat of mere wistfulness 
and longing — then I should have felt really sorry 
for him ; and my conscience would have soundly 
rated me in his behalf. But no ; if the wretched 
creature had been invisible to me, I shouldn't have 
thought of Braxton at all — except with gladness 
that he wasn't here. That he was visible to me, 
and to me alone, wasn't any sign of proper remorse 
within me. It was but the gauge of his incredible 
ill-will. 

1 Well, it seemed to me that he was avenged — 
with a vengeance. There I sat, hot-browed from 

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SEVEN MEN 

sleeplessness, cold in the feet, stiff in the legs, 
cowed and indignant all through — sat there in the 
broadening daylight, and in that new evening suit 
of mine with the Braxtonised shirtfront and waist- 
coat that by day were more than ever loathsome. 
Literature's Ambassador at Keeb. . . I rose gin- 
gerly from my chair, and caught sight of my face, 
of my Braxtonised cheek, in the mirror. I heard 
the twittering of birds in distant trees. I saw 
through my window the elaborate landscape of the 
Duke's grounds, all soft in the grey bloom of early 
morning. I think I was nearer to tears than I had 
ever been since I was a child. But the weakness 
passed. I turned towards the personage on my 
bed, and, summoning all such power as was in me, 
willed him to be gone. My effort was not without 
result — an inadequate result. Braxton turned in 
his sleep. 

1 1 resumed my seat, and . . . and ... sat up 
staring and blinking at a tall man with red hair. 
" I must have fallen asleep," I said. " Yessir," 
he replied ; and his toneless voice touched in me 
one or two springs of memory : I was at Keeb ; 
this was the footman who looked after me. But — 
why wasn't I in bed ? Had I — no, surely it had 
been no nightmare. Surely I had seen Braxton on 
that white bed. 

1 The footman was impassively putting away my 
smoking-suit. I was too dazed to wonder what he 
thought of me. Nor did I attempt to stifle a cry 

86 



MALTBY AND BRAXTON 

when, a moment later, turning in my chair, I beheld 
Braxton leaning moodily against the mantelpiece. 
" Are you unwellsir ? " asked the footman. " No," 
I said faintly, " I'm quite well."— " Yessir. Will 
you wear the blue suit or the grey ? " — " The grey." 
— " Yessir." — It seemed almost incredible that he 
didn't see Braxton ; he didn't appear to me one 
whit more solid than the night-shirted brute who 
stood against the mantelpiece and watched him lay 
out my things. — " Shall I let your bath-water run 
nowsir ? " — " Please, yes." — " Your bathroom's the 
second door to the leftsir." — He went out with my 
bath-towel and sponge, leaving me alone with 
Braxton. 

4 1 rose to my feet, mustering once more all the 
strength that was in me. Hoping against hope, with 
set teeth and clenched hands, I faced him, thrust 
forth my will at him, with everything but words 
commanded him to vanish — to cease to be. 

• Suddenly, utterly, he vanished. And you can 
imagine the truly exquisite sense of triumph that 
thrilled me and continued to thrill me till I went 
into the bathroom and found him in my bath. 

4 Quivering with rage, I returned to my bedroom. 
" Intolerable," I heard myself repeating like a 
parrot that knew no other word. A bath was just 
what I had needed. Could I have lain for a long 
time basking in very hot water, and then have 
sponged myself with cold water, I should have 
emerged calm and brave ; comparatively so, at 

87 



SEVEN MEN 

any rate. I should have looked less ghastly, and 
have had less of a headache, and something of an 
appetite, when I went down to breakfast. Also, I 
shouldn't have been the very first guest to appear 
on the scene. There were five or six round tables, 
instead of last night's long table. At the further 
end of the room the butler and two other servants 
were lighting the little lamps under the hot dishes. 
I didn't like to make myself ridiculous by running 
away. On the other hand, was it right for me to 
begin breakfast all by myself at one of these round 
tables ? I supposed it was. But I dreaded to be 
found eating, alone in that vast room, by the first 
downcomer. I sat dallying with dry toast and 
watching the door. It occurred to me that Braxton 
might occur at any moment. Should I be able to 
ignore him ? 

1 Some man and wife — a very handsome couple — 
were the first to appear. They nodded and said 
" good morning " when they noticed me on their 
way to the hot dishes. I rose — uncomfortably, 
guiltily — and sat down again. I rose again when 
the wife drifted to my table, followed by the husband 
with two steaming plates. She asked me if it 
wasn't a heavenly morning, and I replied with 
nervous enthusiasm that it was. She then ate 
kedgeree in silence. " You just finishing, what ? " 
the husband asked, looking at my plate. " Oh, 
no — no — only just beginning," I assured him, and 
helped myself to butter. He then ate kedgeree in 

88 



MALTBY AND BRAXTON 

silence. He looked like some splendid bull, and she 
like some splendid cow, grazing. I envied them 
their eupeptic calm. I surmised that ten thousand 
Braxtons would not have prevented them from 
sleeping soundly by night and grazing steadily by 
day. Perhaps their stolidity infected me a little. 
Or perhaps what braced me was the great quantity 
of strong tea that I consumed. Anyhow, I had 
begun to feel that if Braxton came in now I shouldn't 
blench nor falter. 

4 Well, I wasn't put to the test. Plenty of people 
drifted in, but Braxton wasn't one of them. Lady 
Rodfitten — no, she didn't drift, she marched, in ; 
and presently, at an adjacent table, she was drawing 
a comparison, in clarion tones, between Jean and 
Edouard de Reszke. It seemed to me that her own 
voice had much in common with Edouard 's. Even 
more was it akin to a military band. I found 
myself beating time to it with my foot. Decidedly, 
my spirits had risen. I was in a mood to face and 
outface anything. When I rose from the table and 
made my way to the door, I walked with something 
of a swing — to the tune of Lady Rodfitten. 

4 My buoyancy didn't last long, though. There 
was no swing in my walk when, a little later, I 
passed out on to the spectacular terrace. I had 
seen my enemy again, and had beaten a furious 
retreat. No doubt I should see him yet again 
soon — here, perhaps, on this terrace. Two of the 
guests were bicycling slowly up and down the long 

89 



SEVEN MEN 

paven expanse, both of them smiling with pride in 
the new delicious form of locomotion. There was a 
great array of bicycles propped neatly along the 
balustrade. I recognised my own among them. I 
wondered whether Braxton had projected from 
Clifford's Inn an image of his own bicycle. He 
may have done so ; but I've no evidence that he 
did. I myself was bicycling when next I saw him ; 
but he, I remember, was on foot. 

1 This was a few minutes later. I was bicycling 
with dear Lady Rodfitten. She seemed really to 
like me. She had come out and accosted me 
heartily on the terrace, asking me, because of my 
sticking-plaster, with whom I had fought a duel 
since yesterday. I did not tell her with whom, and 
she had already branched off on the subject of 
duelling in general. She regretted the extinction of 
duelling in England, and gave cogent reasons for 
her regret. Then she asked me what my next book 
was to be. I confided that I was writing a sort of 
sequel — " Ariel Returns to Mayfair." She shook 
her head, said with her usual soundness that sequels 
were very dangerous things, and asked me to tell 
her " briefly " the lines along which I was working. 
I did so. She pointed out two or three weak points 
in my scheme. She said she could judge better if I 
would let her see my manuscript. She asked me to 
come and lunch with her next Friday — " just our two 
selves " — at Rodfitten House, and to bring my manu- 
script with me. Need I say that I walked on air ? 

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MALTBY AND BRAXTON 

• M And now," she said strenuously, " let us take 
a turn on our bicycles." By this time there were a 
dozen riders on the terrace, all of them smiling with 
pride and rapture. We mounted and rode along 
together. The terrace ran round two sides of the 
house, and before we came to the end of it these 
words had provisionally marshalled themselves in 
my mind : 

TO 

ELEANOR 

COUNTESS OF RODFITTEN 

THIS BOOK WHICH OWES ALL 

TO HER WISE COUNSEL 

AND UNWEARYING SUPERVISION 

IS GRATEFULLY DEDICATED 

BY HER FRIEND 

THE AUTHOR 

1 Smiled to masonically by the passing bicyclists, 
and smiling masonically to them in return, I began 
to feel that the rest of my visit would run smooth, 
if only 

4 " Let's go a little faster. Let's race ! " said 
Lady Rodfitten ; and we did so — " just our two 
selves." I was on the side nearer to the balustrade, 
and it was on that side that Braxton suddenly 
appeared from nowhere, solid-looking as a rock, his 
arms akimbo, less than three yards ahead of me, so 
that I swerved involuntarily, sharply, strikin 

91 



SEVEN MEN 

broadside the front wheel of Lady Rodfitten and 
collapsing with her, and with a crash of machinery, 
to the ground. 

4 1 wasn't hurt. She had broken my fall. I 
wished I was dead. She was furious. She sat 
speechless with fury. A crowd had quickly collected 
— just as in the case of a street accident. She 
accused me now to the crowd. She said I had done 
it on purpose. She said such terrible things of me 
that I think the crowd's sympathy must have 
veered towards me. She was assisted to her feet. 
I tried to be one of the assistants. " Don't let him 
come near me ! " she thundered. I caught sight of 
Braxton on the fringe of the crowd, grinning at me. 
" It was all his fault," I madly cried, pointing at 
him. Everybody looked at Mr. Balfour, just 
behind whom Braxton was standing. There was a 
general murmur of surprise, in which I have no 
doubt Mr. Balfour joined. He gave a charming, 
blank, deprecating smile. " I mean — I can't explain 
what I mean," I groaned. Lady Rodfitten moved 
away, refusing support, limping terribly, towards 
the house. The crowd followed her, solicitous. I 
stood helplessly, desperately, where I was. 

4 1 stood an outlaw, a speck on the now empty 
terrace. Mechanically I picked up my straw hat, 
and wheeled the two bent bicycles to the balustrade. 
I suppose Mr. Balfour has a charming nature. For 
he presently came out again — on purpose, I am 
sure, to alleviate my misery. He told me that 

92 



MALTBY AND BRAXTON 

Lady Rodfitten had suffered no harm. He took me 
for a stroll up and down the terrace, talking thought- 
fully and enchantingly about things in general. 
Then, having done his deed of mercy, this Good 
Samaritan went back into the house. My eyes 
followed him with gratitude ; but I was still 
bleeding from wounds beyond his skill. I escaped 
down into the gardens. I wanted to see no one. 
Still more did I want to be seen by no one. I 
dreaded in every nerve of me my reappearance 
among those people. I walked ever faster and 
faster, to stifle thought ; but in vain. Why hadn't 
I simply ridden through Braxton ? I was aware of 
being now in the park, among great trees and 
undulations of wild green ground. But Nature did 
not achieve the task that Mr. Balfour had attempted ; 
and my anguish was unassuaged. 

' I paused to lean against a tree in the huge 
avenue that led to the huge hateful house. I 
leaned wondering whether the thought of re-entering 
that house were the more hateful because I should 
have to face my fellow-guests or because I should 
probably have to face Braxton. A church bell 
began ringing somewhere. And anon I was aware 
of another sound — a twitter of voices. A consign- 
ment of hatted and parasoled ladies was coming fast 
adown the avenue. My first impulse was to dodge 
behind my tree. But I feared that I had been 
observed ; so that what was left to me of self- 
respect compelled me to meet these ladies. 

93 



SEVEN MEN 

4 The Duchess was among them. I had seen her 
from afar at breakfast, but not since. She carried 
a prayer-book, which she waved to me as I ap- 
proached. I was a disastrous guest, but still a 
guest, and nothing could have been prettier than 
her smile. " Most of my men this week," she said, 
" are Pagans, and all the others have dispatch-boxes 
to go through — except the dear old Duke of Mull, 
who's a member of the Free Kirk. You're Pagan, 
of course ? " 

* I said — and indeed it was a heart-cry — that I 
should like very much to come to church. " If I 
shan't be in the way," I rather abjectly added. It 
didn't strike me that Braxton would try to intercept 
me. I don't know why, but it never occurred to 
me, as I walked briskly along beside the Duchess, 
that I should meet him so far from the house. The 
church was in a corner of the park, and the way to 
it was by a side path that branched off from the 
end of the avenue. A little way along, casting its 
shadow across the path, was a large oak. It was 
from behind this tree, when we came to it, that 
Braxton sprang suddenly forth and tripped me up 
with his foot. 

1 Absurd to be tripped up by the mere semblance 
of a foot ? But remember, I was walking quickly, 
and the whole thing happened in a flash of time. It 
was inevitable that I should throw out my hands 
and come down headlong — just as though the 
obstacle had been as real as it looked. Down I 

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MALTBY AND BRAXTON 

came on palms and knee-caps, and up I scrambled, 
very much hurt and shaken and apologetic. " Poor 
Mr. Maltby ! Really — ! " the Duchess wailed for 
me in this latest of my mishaps. Some other lady 
chased my straw hat, which had bowled far ahead. 
Two others helped to brush me. They were all 
very kind, with a quaver of mirth in their concern 
for me. I looked furtively around for Braxton, but 
he was gone. The palms of my hands were abraded 
with gravel. The Duchess said I must on no 
account come to church now. I was utterly 
determined to reach that sanctuary. I marched 
firmly on with the Duchess. Come what might 
on the way, I wasn't going to be left out 
here. I was utterly bent on winning at least one 
respite. 

4 Well, I reached the little church without further 
molestation. To be there seemed almost too good 
to be true. The organ, just as we entered, sounded 
its first notes. The ladies rustled into the front 
pew. I, being the one male of the party, sat at the 
end of the pew, beside the Duchess. I couldn't help 
feeling that my position was a proud one. But I 
had gone through too much to take instant pleasure 
in it, and was beset by thoughts of what new horror 
might await me on the way back to the house. I 
hoped the Service would not be brief. The swelling 
and dwindling strains of the " voluntary " on the 
small organ were strangely soothing. I turned to 
give an almost feudal glance to the simple villagers 

95 



SEVEN MEN 

in the pews behind, and saw a sight that cowed 
my soul. 

4 Braxton was coming up the aisle. He came 
slowly, casting a tourist's eye at the stained-glass 
windows on either side. Walking heavily, yet with 
no sound of boots on the pavement, he reached our 
pew. There, towering and glowering, he halted, as 
though demanding that we should make room for 
him. A moment later he edged sullenly into the 
pew. Instinctively I had sat tight back, drawing 
my knees aside, in a shudder of revulsion against 
contact. But Braxton did not push past me. 
What he did was to sit slowly and fully down 
on me. 

1 No, not down on me. Down through me 

and around me. What befell me was not mere 
ghastly contact with the intangible. It was inclu- 
sion, envelopment, eclipse. What Braxton sat 
down on was not I, but the seat of the pew ; and 
what he sat back against was not my face and 
chest, but the back of the pew. I didn't realise this 
at the moment. All I knew was a sudden black 
blotting-out of all things ; an infinite and impene- 
trable darkness. I dimly conjectured that I was 
dead. What was wrong with me, in point of fact, 
was that my eyes, with the rest of me, were inside 
Braxton. You remember what a great hulking 
fellow Braxton was. I calculate that as we sat 
there my eyes were just beneath the roof of his 
mouth. Horrible ! 

96 



MALTBY AND BRAXTON 

4 Out of the unfathomable depths of that pitch 
darkness, I could yet hear the " voluntary " swelling 
and dwindling, just as before. It was by this I 
knew now that I wasn't dead. And I suppose I 
must have craned my head forward, for I had a 
sudden glimpse of things — a close quick downward 
glimpse of a pepper-and-salt waistcoat and of two 
great hairy hands clasped across it. Then darkness 
again. Either I had drawn back my head, or 
Braxton had thrust his forward ; I don't know 
which. " Are you all right ? " the Duchess' voice 
whispered, and no doubt my face was ashen. 
" Quite," whispered my voice. But this pathetic 
monosyllable was the last gasp of the social instinct 
in me. Suddenly, as the " voluntary " swelled to 
its close, there was a great sharp shuffling noise. 
The congregation had risen to its feet, at the entry 
of choir and vicar. Braxton had risen, leaving me 
in daylight. I beheld his towering back. The 
Duchess, beside him, glanced round at me. But I 
could not, dared not, stand up into that presented 
back, into that great waiting darkness. I did but 
clutch my hat from beneath the seat and hurry 
distraught down the aisle, out through the porch, 
into the open air. 

4 Whither ? To what goal ? I didn't reason. I 
merely fled — like Orestes ; fled like an automaton 
along the path we had come by. And was followed ? 
Yes, yes. Glancing back across my shoulder, I saw 
that brute some twenty yards behind me, gaining 

97 G 



SEVEN MEN 

on me. I broke into a sharper run. A few sickening 
moments later, he was beside me, scowling down 
into my face. 

4 1 swerved, dodged, doubled on my tracks, but 
he was always at me. Now and again, for lack of 
breath, I halted, and he halted with me. And then, 
when I had got my wind, I would start running 
again, in the insane hope of escaping him. We 
came, by what twisting and turning course I know 
not, to the great avenue, and as I stood there in an 
agony of panting I had a dazed vision of the distant 
Hall. Really I had quite forgotten I was staying 
at the Duke of Hertfordshire's. But Braxton 
hadn't forgotten. He planted himself in front of 
me. He stood between me and the house. 

1 Faint though I was, I could almost have laughed. 
Good heavens ! was that all he wanted : that I 
shouldn't go back there ? Did he suppose I wanted 
to go back there — with him ? Was I the Duke's 
prisoner on parole ? What was there to prevent 
me from just walking off to the railway station ? 
I turned to do so. 

* He accompanied me on my way. I thought 
that when once I had passed through the lodge 
gates he might vanish, satisfied. But no, he didn't 
vanish. It was as though he suspected that if he 
let me out of his sight I should sneak back to the 
house. He arrived with me, this quiet companion 
of mine, at the little railway station. Evidently he 
meant to see me off. I learned from an elderly and 

98 



MALTBY AND BRAXTON 

solitary porter that the next train to London was 
the 4.3. 

4 Well, Braxton saw me off by the 4.3. I reflected, 
as I stepped up into an empty compartment, that 
it wasn't yet twenty-four hours ago since I, or some 
one like me, had alighted at that station. 

' The guard blew his whistle ; the engine shrieked, 
and the train jolted forward and away ; but I did 
not lean out of the window to see the last of my 
attentive friend. 

' Really not twenty-four hours ago ? Not twenty- 
four years ? ' 

Maltby paused in his narrative. ' Well, well,' he 
said, ' I don't want you to think I overrate the 
ordeal of my visit to Keeb. A man of stronger 
nerve than mine, and of greater resourcefulness, 
might have coped successfully with Braxton from 
first to last — might have stayed on till Monday, 
making a very favourable impression on every one 
all the while. Even as it was, even after my 
manifold failures and sudden flight, I don't say my 
position was impossible. I only say it seemed so 
to me. A man less sensitive than I, and less vain, 
might have cheered up after writing a letter of 
apology to his hostess, and have resumed his normal 
existence as though nothing very terrible had 
happened, after all. I wrote a few lines to the 
Duchess that night ; but I wrote amidst the pre- 
parations for my departure from England : I 

99 



SEVEN MEN 

crossed the Channel next morning. Throughout 
that Sunday afternoon with Braxton at the Keeb 
railway station, pacing the desolate platform with 
him, waiting in the desolating waiting-room with 
him, I was numb to regrets, and was thinking of 
nothing but the 4.3. On the way to Victoria my 
brain worked and my soul wilted. Every incident 
in my stay at Keeb stood out clear to me ; a dreadful, 
a hideous pattern. I had done for myself, so far as 
those people were concerned. And now that I had 
sampled them, what cared I for others ? " Too low 
for a hawk, too high for a buzzard." That homely 
old saying seemed to sum me up. And suppose I 
could still take pleasure in the company of my own 
old upper-middle class, how would that class regard 
me now ? Gossip percolates. Little by little, I 
was sure, the story of my Keeb fiasco would leak 
down into the drawing-room of Mrs. Foster-Dugdale. 
I felt I could never hold up my head in any com- 
pany where anything of that story was known. Are 
you quite sure you never heard anything ? ' 

I assured Maltby that all I had known was the 
great bare fact of his having stayed at Keeb 
Hall. 

4 It's curious,' he reflected. ' It's a fine illustra- 
tion of the loyalty of those people to one another. 
I suppose there was a general agreement for the 
Duchess' sake that nothing should be said about 
her queer guest. But even if I had dared hope to 
be so efficiently hushed up, I couldn't have not 
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MALTBY AND BRAXTON 

fled. I wanted to forget. I wanted to leap into 
some void, far away from all remindeis. I leapt 
straight from Ryder Street into Vaule-la-Rochette, 
a place of which I had once heard that it was the 
least frequented seaside-resort in Europe. I leapt 
leaving no address — leapt telling my landlord that 
if a suit-case and a portmanteau arrived for me he 
could regard them, them and their contents, as his 
own for ever. I daresay the Duchess wrote me a 
kind little letter, forcing herself to express a vague 
hope that I would come again " some other time." 
I daresay Lady Rodfitten did not write reminding 
me of my promise to lunch on Friday and bring 
" Ariel Returns to Mayfair " with me. I left that 
manuscript at Ryder Street ; in my bedroom 
grate ; a shuffle of ashes. Not that I'd yet 
given up all thought of writing. But I certainly 
wasn't going to write now about the two things 
I most needed to forget. I wasn't going to write 
about the British aristocracy, nor about any kind 
of supernatural presence. . . I did write a novel 
— my last — while I was at Vaule. " Mr. and 
Mrs. Robinson." Did you ever come across a 
copy of it ? ' 

I nodded gravely. 

' Ah ; I wasn't sure,' said Maltby, ' whether it 
was ever published. A dreary affair, wasn't it ? I 
knew a great deal about suburban life. But — well, 
I suppose one can't really understand what one 
doesn't love, and one can't make good fun without 
101 



SEVEN MEN 

real understanding. Besides, what chance of virtue 
is there for a book written merely to distract the 
author's mind ? I had hoped to be healed by sea 
and sunshine and solitude. These things were 
useless. The labour of " Mr. and Mrs. Robinson " 
did help, a little. When I had finished it, I thought 
I might as well send it off to my publisher. He had 
given me a large sum of money, down, after " Ariel," 
for my next book — so large that I was rather loth 
to disgorge. In the note I sent with the manuscript, 
I gave no address, and asked that the proofs should 
be read in the office. I didn't care whether the thing 
were published or not. I knew it would be a dead 
failure if it were. What mattered one more drop in 
the foaming cup of my humiliation ? I knew Braxton 
would grin and gloat. I didn't mind even that.' 

1 Oh, well,' I said, ' Braxton was in no mood for 
grinning and gloating. " The Drones " had already 
appeared.' 

Maltby had never heard of 4 The Drones ' — 
which I myself had remembered only in the course 
of his disclosures. I explained to him that it was 
Braxton's second novel, and was by way of being 
, a savage indictment of the British aristocracy ; 
that it was written in the worst possible taste, but 
was so very dull that it fell utterly flat ; that 
Braxton had forthwith taken, with all of what 
Maltby had called ■ the passionate force and inten- 
sity of his nature,' to drink, and had presently gone 
under and not re-emerged. 
102 



MALTBY AND BRAXTON 

Maltby gave signs of genuine, though not deep, 
emotion, and cited two or three of the finest 
passages from ' A Faun on the Cotswolds.' He 
even expressed a conviction that * The Drones ' 
must have been misjudged. He said he blamed 
himself more than ever for yielding to that bad 
impulse at that Soiree. 

4 And yet,' he mused, ' and yet, honestly, I 
can't find it in my heart to regret that I did yield. 
I can only wish that all had turned out as well, in 
the end, for Braxton as for me. I wish he could 
have won out, as I did, into a great and lasting 
felicity. For about a year after I had finished 
" Mr. and Mrs. Robinson " I wandered from place 
to place, trying to kill memory, shunning all places 
frequented by the English. At last I found myself 
in Lucca. Here, if anywhere, I thought, might a 
bruised and tormented spirit find gradual peace. I 
determined to move out of my hotel into some 
permanent lodging. Not for felicity, not for any 
complete restoration of self-respect, was I hoping ; 
only for peace. A " mezzano " conducted me to a 
noble and ancient house, of which, he told me, the 
owner was anxious to let the first floor. It was in 
much disrepair, but even so seemed to me very 
cheap. According to the simple Luccan standard, 
I am rich. I took that first floor for a year, had it 
repaired, and engaged two servants. My " padrona" 
inhabited the ground floor. From time to time she 
allowed me to visit her there. She was the Contessa 
103 



SEVEN MEN 

Adriano-Rizzoli, the last of her line. She is the 
Contessa Adriano-Rizzoli-Maltby. We have been 
married fifteen years.' 

Maltby looked at his watch. He rose and took 
tenderly from the table his great bunch of roses. 
1 She is a lineal descendant,' he said, ' of the 
Emperor Hadrian.' 



104 



JAMES PETHEL 



JAMES PETHEL 

September 17, 1912 

THOUGH seven years have gone by since the 
day when last I saw him, and though that 
day was but the morrow of my first meeting 
with him, I was shocked when I saw in my news- 
paper this morning the announcement of his 
sudden death. 

I had formed, in the dim past, the habit of 
spending August in Dieppe. The place was less 
popular then than it is now. Some pleasant English 
people shared it with some pleasant French people. 
We used rather to resent the race-week — the third 
week of the month — as an intrusion on our privacy. 
We sneered as we read in the Paris edition of the 
New York Herald the names of the intruders. 
We disliked the nightly crush in the baccarat room 
of the Casino, and the croupiers' obvious excitement 
at the high play. I made a point of avoiding that 
room during that week, for the especial reason that 
the sight of serious, habitual gamblers has always 
filled me with a depression bordering on disgust. 
107 



SEVEN MEN 

Most of the men, by some subtle stress of their 
ruling passion, have grown so monstrously fat, and 
most of the women so harrowingly thin. The rest 
of the women seem to be marked out for apoplexy, 
and the rest of the men to be wasting away. One 
feels that anything thrown at them would be either 
embedded or shattered, and looks vainly among 
them for a person furnished with the normal amount 
of flesh. Monsters they are, all of them, to the eye 
(though I believe that many of them have excellent 
moral qualities in private life) ; but, just as in an 
American town one goes sooner or later — goes 
against one's finer judgment, but somehow goes — 
into the dime-museum, so, year by year, in Dieppe's 
race-week, there would be always one evening when 
I drifted into the baccarat room. It was on such 
an evening that I first saw the man whose memory 
I here celebrate. My gaze was held by him for the 
very reason that he would have passed unnoticed 
elsewhere. He was conspicuous, not in virtue of 
the mere fact that he was taking the bank at the 
principal table, but because there was nothing at 
all odd about him. 

Between his lips was a cigar of moderate size. 
Everything about him, except the amount of money 
he had been winning, seemed moderate. Just as 
he was neither fat nor thin, so had his face neither 
that extreme pallor nor that extreme redness which 
belongs to the faces of seasoned gamblers : it was 
just a clear pink. And his eyes had neither the 
108 



JAMES PETHEL 

unnatural brightness nor the unnatural dullness of 
the eyes around him : they were ordinarily clear 
eyes, of an ordinary grey. His very age was 
moderate : a putative thirty-six, not more. (" Not 
less," I would have said in those days.) He assumed 
no air of nonchalance. He did not deal out the 
cards as though they bored him. But he had no 
look of grim concentration. I noticed that the 
removal of his cigar from his mouth made never 
the least difference to his face, for he kept his lips 
pursed out as steadily as ever when he was not 
smoking. And this constant pursing of his lips 
seemed to denote just a pensive interest. 

His bank was nearly done now. There were but 
a few cards left. Opposite to him was a welter of 
parti-coloured counters which the croupier had not 
yet had time to sort out and add to the rouleaux 
already made ; there were also a fair accumulation 
of notes and several little stacks of gold. In all, not 
less than five hundred pounds, certainly. Happy 
banker ! How easily had he won in a few minutes 
more than I, with utmost pains, could earn in many 
months ! I wished I were he. His lucre seemed to 
insult me personally. I disliked him. And yet I 
hoped he would not take another bank. I hoped 
he would have the good sense to pocket his winnings 
and go home. Deliberately to risk the loss of all 
those riches would intensify the insult to myself. 

4 Messieurs, la banque est aux encheres ! ' There 
was some brisk bidding, while the croupier tore 
109 



SEVEN MEN 

open and shuffled the two new packs. But it was 
as I feared : the gentleman whom I resented kept 
his place. 

' Messieurs, la banque est faite. Quinze mille 
francs a la banque. Messieurs, les cartes passent ! 
Messieurs, les cartes passent ! ' 

Turning to go, I encountered a friend — one of the 
race-weekers, but in a sense a friend. 

' Going to play ? ' I asked. 

' Not while Jimmy Pethel's taking the bank,' he 
answered, with a laugh. 

1 Is that the man's name ? ' 

4 Yes. Don't you know him ? I thought every 
one knew old Jimmy Pethel.' 

I asked what there was so wonderful about ' old 
Jimmy Pethel ' that every one should be supposed 
to know him. 

1 Oh, he's a great character. Has extraordinary 
luck. Always.' 

I do not think my friend was versed in the pretty 
theory that good luck is the unconscious wisdom of 
them who in previous incarnations have been 
consciously wise. He was a member of the Stock 
Exchange, and I smiled as at a certain quaintness 
in his remark. I asked in what ways besides luck 
the ' great character ' was manifested. Oh, well, 
Pethel had made a huge l scoop ' on the Stock 
Exchange when he was only twenty-three, and very 
soon doubled that, and doubled it again ; then 
retired. He wasn't more than thirty-five now. 
110 



JAMES PETHEL 

And ? Oh, well, he was a regular all-round sports- 
man — had gone after big game all over the world 
and had a good many narrow shaves. Great 
steeple-chaser, too. Rather settled down now. 
Lived in Leicestershire mostly. Had a big place 
there. Hunted five times a week. Still did an 
occasional flutter, though. Cleared eighty thousand 
in Mexicans last February. Wife had been a bar- 
maid at Cambridge. Married her when he was 
nineteen. Thing seemed to have turned out quite 
well. Altogether, a great character. 

Possibly, thought I. But my cursory friend, 
accustomed to quick transactions and to things 
accepted i on the nod,' had not proved his case to 
my slower, more literary intelligence. It was to 
him, however, that I owed, some minutes later, a 
chance of testing his opinion. At the cry of 
4 Messieurs, la banque est aux encheres ■ we looked 
round and saw that the subject of our talk was 
preparing to rise from his place. ' Now one can 
punt ! ' said Grierson (this was my friend's name), 
and turned to the bureau at which counters are for 
sale. 4 If old Jimmy Pethel punts,' he added, * I 
shall just follow his luck.' But this lodestar was 
not to be. While my friend was buying his counters, 
and I wondering whether I too would buy some, 
Pethel himself came up to the bureau. With his 
lips no longer pursed, he had lost his air of gravity, 
and looked younger. Behind him was an attendant 
bearing a big wooden bowl — that plain but romantic 
111 



SEVEN MEN 

bowl supplied by the establishment to a banker 
whose gains are too great to be pocketed. He and 
Grierson greeted each other. He said he had 
arrived in Dieppe this afternoon — was here for a 
day or two. We were introduced. He spoke to me 
with some empressement, saying he was a ' very 
great admirer ' of my work. I no longer disliked 
him. Grierson, armed with counters, had now 
darted away to secure a place that had just been 
vacated. Pethel, with a wave of his hand towards 
the tables, said, ' I suppose you never condescend 
to this sort of thing ? ' 

1 Well ■ I smiled indulgently. 

4 Awful waste of time,' he admitted. 

I glanced down at the splendid mess of counters 
and gold and notes that were now becoming, under 
the swift fingers of the little man at the bureau, an 
orderly array. I did not say aloud that it pleased 
me to be, and to be seen, talking, on terms of 
equality, to a man who had won so much. I did 
not say how wonderful it seemed to me that he, 
whom I had watched just now with awe and with 
aversion, had all the while been a great admirer of 
my work. I did but say (again indulgently) that I 
supposed baccarat to be as good a way of wasting 
time as another. 

4 Ah, but you despise us all the same ! ' He 

added that he always envied men who had resources 

within themselves. I laughed lightly, to imply 

that it was very pleasant to have such resources, 

112 



JAMES PETHEL 

but that I didn't want to boast. And indeed, I 
had never, I vow, felt flimsier than when the 
little man at the bureau, naming a fabulous sum, 
asked its owner whether he would take the main 
part in notes of mille francs ? cinq mille ? dix 
mille ? quoi ? Had it been mine, I should have 
asked to have it all in five-franc pieces. Pethel took 
it in the most compendious form and crumpled it 
into a pocket. I asked if he were going to play any- 
more to-night. 

1 Oh, later on,' he said. ' 1 want to get a little 
sea-air into my lungs now - ; and he asked with a 
sort of breezy diffidence if I would go with him. I 
was glad to do so. It flashed across my mind that 
yonder on the terrace he might suddenly blurt out, 
4 1 say, look here, don't think me awfully impertinent, 
but this money's no earthly use to me : I do wish 
you'd accept it, as a very small return for all the 
pleasure your work has given me, and . . . There ! 
Please ! Not another word ! ' — all with such can- 
dour, delicacy, and genuine zeal that I should be 
unable to refuse. But I must not raise false hopes 
in my reader. Nothing of the sort happened. 
Nothing of that sort ever does happen. 

We were not long on the terrace. It was not a 
night on which you could stroll and talk : there was 
a wind against which you had to stagger, holding 
your hat on tightly and shouting such remarks as 
might occur to you. Against that wind acquain- 
tance could make no headway. Yet I see now that 
113 H 



SEVEN MEN 

despite that wind — or rather because of it — I ought 
already to have known Pethel a little better than 
I did when we presently sat down together inside 
the cafe of the Casino. There had been a point in 
our walk, or our stagger, when we paused to lean 
over the parapet, looking down at the black and 
driven sea. And Pethel had shouted that it would 
be great fun to be out in a sailing-boat to-night and 
that at one time he had been very fond of sailing. 

As we took our seats in the cafe, he looked around 
him with boyish interest and pleasure. Then, 
squaring his arms on the little table, he asked me 
what I would drink. I protested that I was the 
host — a position which he, with the quick courtesy 
of the very rich, yielded to me at once. I feared 
he would ask for champagne, and was gladdened by 
his demand for water. ' Apollinaris ? St. Galmier ? 
Or what ? ' I asked. He preferred plain water. I 
felt bound to warn him that such water was never 
' safe p in these places. He said he had often heard 
that, but would risk it. I remonstrated, but he 
was firm. ' Alors,' I told the waiter, 4 pour Monsieur 
un verre d'eau fraiche, et pour moi un demi blonde.' 
Pethel asked me to tell him who every one was. I 
told him no one was any one in particular, and 
suggested that we should talk about ourselves. 
1 You mean,' he laughed, ' that you want to know 
who the devil I am ? ' I assured him that I had 
often heard of him. At this he was unaffectedly 
pleased. * But,' I added, ' it's always more interest- 
114 



JAMES PETHEL 

ing to hear a man talked about by himself.' And 
indeed, since he had not handed his winnings over 
to me, I did hope he would at any rate give me 
some glimpses into that 4 great character ' of his. 
Full though his life had been, he seemed but like a 
rather clever schoolboy out on a holiday. I wanted 
to know more. 

1 That beer does look good,' he admitted when the 
waiter came back. I asked him to change his 
mind. But he shook his head, raised to his lips 
the tumbler of water that had been placed before 
him, and meditatively drank a deep draught. ' I 
never,' he then said, ' touch alcohol of any sort.' 
He looked solemn ; but all men do look solemn 
when they speak of their own habits, whether 
positive or negative, and no matter how trivial ; 
and so (though I had really no warrant for not 
supposing him a reclaimed drunkard) I dared ask 
him for what reason he abstained. 

4 When I say I never touch alcohol,' he said 
hastily, in a tone as of self-defence, 4 1 mean that I 
don't touch it often — or at any rate — well, I never 
touch it when I'm gambling, you know. It — it takes 
the edge off.' 

His tone did make me suspicious. For a moment 
I wondered whether he had married the barmaid 
rather for what she symbolised than for what in 
herself she was. But no, surely not : he had been 
only nineteen years old. Nor in any way had he 
now — this steady, brisk, clear-eyed fellow — the 
115 



SEVEN MEN 

aspect of one who had since fallen. 4 The edge off 
the excitement ? ' I asked. 

4 Rather ! Of course that sort of excitement 
seems awfully stupid to you. But — no use denying 
it — I do like a bit of a flutter — just occasionally, 
you know. And one has to be in trim for it. 
Suppose a man sat down dead drunk to a game of 
chance, what fun would it be for him ? None. And 
it's only a question of degree. Soothe yourself 
ever so little with alcohol, and you don't get quite 
the full sensation of gambling. You do lose just a 
little something of the proper tremors before a coup, 
the proper throes during a coup, the proper thrill 
of joy or anguish after a coup. . . You're bound to, 
you know,' he added, purposely making this bathos 
when he saw me smiling at the heights to which he 
had risen. 

4 And to-night,' I asked, remembering his prosai- 
cally pensive demeanour in taking the bank, 4 were 
you feeling these throes and thrills to the utmost ? ' 

He nodded. 

4 And you'll feel them again to-night ? ' 

4 1 hope so.' 

4 1 wonder you can stay away.' 

4 Oh, one gets a bit deadened after an hour or 
so. One needs to be freshened up. So long as I 
don't bore you ' 

I laughed, and held out my cigarette-case. 4 1 
rather wonder you smoke,' I murmured, after giving 
him a light. 4 Nicotine's a sort of drug. Doesn't it 
116 



JAMES PETHEL 

soothe you ? Don't you lose just a little something 
of the tremors and things ? ■ 

He looked at me gravely. ' By Jove,' he ejacu- 
lated, 4 1 never thought of that. Perhaps you're 
right. 'Pon my word, I must think that over.' 

I wondered whether he were secretly laughing at 
me. Here was a man to whom (so I conceived, with 
an effort of the imagination) the loss or gain of a 
few hundred pounds could not matter. I told him 
I had spoken in jest. 4 To give up tobacco might,' 
I said, 4 intensify the pleasant agonies of a gambler 
staking his little all. But in your case — well, 
frankly, I don't see where the pleasant agonies 
come in.' 

4 You mean because I'm beastly rich ? ' 

* Rich,' I amended. 

4 All depends on what you call rich. Besides, I'm 
not the sort of fellow who's content with 3 per cent* 
A couple of months ago — I tell you this in confidence 
— I risked practically all I had, in an Argentine 
deal.' 

4 And lost it ? ' 

4 No, as a matter of fact I made rather a good 
thing out of it. I did rather well last February, 
too. But there's no knowing the future. A few 
errors of judgment — a war here, a revolution there, 
a big strike somewhere else, and — ' He blew a jet 
of smoke from his lips, and looked at me as at one 
whom he could trust to feel for him in a crash 
already come. 

117 



SEVEN MEN 

My sympathy lagged, and I stuck to the point of 
my inquiry. ' Meanwhile,' I suggested, ' and all the 
more because you aren't merely a rich man, but 
also an active taker of big risks, how can these 
tiny little baccarat risks give you so much emo- 
tion ? ' 

* There you rather have me,' he laughed. " I've 
i often wondered at that myself. I suppose,' he 

puzzled it out, 'I do a good lot of make-believe. 
While I'm playing a game like this game to-night, I 
imagine the stakes are huge, and I imagine I haven't 
another penny in the world.' 

4 Ah ! So that with you it's always a life-and- 
death affair ? ' 

He looked away. ' Oh, no, I don't say that.' 

1 Stupid phrase,' I admitted. ' But,' there was 
yet one point I would put to him, * if you have 
extraordinary luck — always — ' 

1 There's no such thing as luck.' 

* No, strictly, I suppose, there isn't. But if in 
point of fact you always do win, then — well, surely, 
perfect luck driveth out fear ? ' 

1 Who ever said I always won ? ' he asked sharply. 

I waved my hands and said, 4 Oh, you have the 
reputation, you know, for extraordinary luck.' 

1 That isn't the same thing as always winning. 
Besides, I haven't extraordinary luck — never have 
had. Good heavens,' he exclaimed, 4 if I thought I 
had any more chance of winning than of losing, 
I'd— I'd— ' 

118 



JAMES PETHEL 

1 Never again set foot in that baccarat room 
to-night,' I soothingly suggested. 

4 Oh, baccarat be blowed ! I wasn't thinking of 
baccarat. I was thinking of — oh, lots of things ; 
baccarat included, yes.' 

4 What things ? ' I ventured to ask. 

4 What things ? ' He pushed back his chair, and 
4 Look here,' he said with a laugh, 4 don't pretend I 
haven't been boring your head off with all this talk 
about myself. You've been too patient. I'm off. 
Shall I see you to-morrow ? Perhaps you'd lunch 
with us to-morrow ? It would be a great pleasure 
for my wife. We're at the Hdtei Royal.' 

I said I should be most happy, and called the 
waiter ; at sight of whom my friend said he had 
talked himself thirsty, and asked for another glass 
of water. He mentioned that he had brought his 
car over with him : his little daughter (by the news 
of whose existence I felt idiotically surprised) was 
very keen on motoring, and they were all three 
starting the day after to-morrow for 4 a spin through 
France.' Afterwards, they were going on to Switzer- 
land, 4 for some climbing.' Did 1 care about motor- 
ing ? If so, we might go for a spin after luncheon, 
to Rouen or somewhere ? He drank his glass of 
water, and, linking a friendly arm in mine, passed 
out with me into the corridor. He asked what I 
was writing now, and said that he looked to me to 
4 do something big, one of these days,' and that he 
was sure I had it 4 in ' me. This remark (though of 
119 



SEVEN MEN 

course I pretended to be pleased by it) irritated me 
very much. It was destined, as you shall see, to 
irritate me very much more in recollection. 

Yet was I glad he had asked me to luncheon. 
Glad because I liked him, glad because I dislike 
mysteries. Though you may think me very dense 
for not having thoroughly understood Pethel in the 
course of my first meeting with him, the fact is that 
I was only conscious, and that dimly, of something 
more in him than he had cared to reveal — some veil 
behind which perhaps lurked his right to the title 
so airily bestowed on him by Grierson. I assured 
myself, as I walked home, that if veil there were I 
should to-morrow find an eyelet. 

But one's intuition when it is off duty seems 
always so much more powerful an engine than it 
does on active service ; and next day, at sight of 
Pethel awaiting me outside his hotel, I became less 
confident. His, thought I, was a face which, for all 
its animation, would tell nothing — nothing, at any 
rate, that mattered. It expressed well enough that 
he was pleased to see me ; but for the rest, I was 
reminded, it had a sort of frank inscrutability. 
Besides, it was at all points so very usual a face — a 
face that couldn't (so I then thought), even if it had 
leave to, betray connexion with a l great character.' 
It was a strong face, certainly. But so are yours 
and mine. 

And very fresh it looked, though, as he confessed, 
Pethel had sat up in ' that beastly baccarat room ' 
120 



JAMES PETHEL 

till 5 a.m. I asked, had he lost ? Yes, he had lost 
steadily for four hours (proudly he laid stress on 
this), but in the end — well (he admitted), he had 
won it all back 4 and a bit more.' ' By the way,' 
he murmured as we were about to enter the hall, 
1 don't ever happen to mention to my wife what I 
told you about that Argentine deal. She's always 
rather nervous about — investments. I don't tell 
her about them. She's rather a nervous woman 
altogether, I'm sorry to say.' 

This did not square with my preconception of her. 
Slave that I am to traditional imagery, I had 
figured her as ' flaunting,' as golden-haired, as 
haughty to most men but with a provocative smile 
across the shoulder for some. Nor indeed did her 
husband's words prevent me from the suspicion 
that my eyes deceived me when anon I was pre- 
sented to a very pale small lady whose hair was 
rather white than grey. And the ' little daughter ' ! 
This prodigy's hair was as yet * down,' but looked 
as if it might be up at any moment : she was 
nearly as tall as her father, whom she very 
much resembled in face and figure and heartiness 
of hand-shake. Only after a rapid mental calcu- 
lation could I account for her. ' I must warn 
you, she's in a great rage this morning,' said her 
father. 4 Do try to soothe her.' She blushed, 
laughed, and bade her father not be so silly. I 
asked her the cause of her great rage. She said 
4 He only means I was disappointed. And he was 
121 



SEVEN MEN 

just as disappointed as I was. Weren't you, now, 
Father ? ' 

4 1 suppose they meant well, Peggy,' he laughed. 

4 They were quite right/ said Mrs. Pethel, evidently 
not for the first time. 

4 They,' as I presently learned, were the authorities 
of the bathing establishment. Pethel had promised 
his daughter he would take her for a swim ; but on 
their arrival at the bathing-cabins they were ruth- 
lessly told that bathing was 4 d6fendu a cause du 
mauvais temps.' This embargo was our theme as 
we sat down to luncheon. Miss Peggy was of 
opinion that the French were cowards. I pleaded 
for them that even in English watering-places 
bathing was forbidden when the sea was very 
rough. She did not admit that the sea was very 
rough to-day. Besides, she appealed to me, what 
was the fun of swimming in absolutely calm water ? 
I dared not say that this was the only sort of water 
I liked to swim in. 4 They were quite right,' said 
Mrs. Pethel yet again. 

4 Yes, but, darling Mother, you can't swim. 
Father and I are both splendid swimmers.' 

To gloze over the mother's disability, I looked 
brightly at Pethel, as though in ardent recognition 
of his prowess among waves. With a movement of 
his head he indicated his daughter — indicated that 
there was no one like her in the whole world. I 
beamed agreement. Indeed, I did think her rather 
nice. If one liked the father (and I liked Pethel all 
122 



JAMES PETHEL 

the more in that capacity), one couldn't help liking 
the daughter : the two were so absurdly alike. 
Whenever he was looking at her (and it was seldom 
that he looked away from her) the effect, if you 
cared to be fantastic, was that of a very vain man 
before a mirror. It might have occurred to me 
that, if there were any mystery in him, I could 
solve it through her. But, in point of fact, I had 
forgotten all about that possible mystery. The 
amateur detective was lost in the sympathetic 
observer of a father's love. That Pethel did love 
his daughter I have never doubted. One passion is 
not less true because another predominates. No one 
who ever saw that father with that daughter could 
doubt that he loved her intensely. And this in- 
tensity gauges for me the strength of what else was 
in him. 

Mrs. Pethel's love, though less explicit, was not 
less evidently profound. But the maternal instinct 
is less attractive to an onlooker, because he takes it 
more for granted, than the paternal. What en- 
deared poor Mrs. Pethel to me was — well, the 
inevitability of the epithet I give her. She seemed, 
poor thing, so essentially out of it ; and by ; it ' is 
meant the glowing mutual affinity of husband and 
child. Not that she didn't, in her little way, assert 
herself during the meal. But she did so, I thought, 
with the knowledge that she didn't count, and 
never would count. I wondered how it was that 
she had, in that Cambridge bar-room long ago, 
123 



SEVEN MEN 

counted for Pethel to the extent of matrimony. But 
from any such room she seemed so utterly remote 
that she might well be in all respects now an utterly 
changed woman. She did pre-eminently look as if 
much had by some means been taken out of her, 
with no compensatory process of putting in. Pethel 
looked so very young for his age, whereas she 
would have had to be quite old to look young for 
hers. I pitied her as one might a governess with 
two charges who were hopelessly out of hand. But 
a governess, I reflected, can always give notice. 
Love tied poor Mrs. Pethel fast to her present 
situation. 

As the three of them were to start next day on 
their tour through France, and as the four of us 
were to make a tour to Rouen this afternoon, the 
talk was much about motoring — a theme which 
Miss Peggy's enthusiasm made almost tolerable. I 
said to Mrs. Pethel, with more good-will than truth, 
that I supposed she was 4 very keen on it.' She 
replied that she was. 

4 But, darling Mother, you aren't. I believe you 
hate it. You're always asking Father to go slower. 
And what is the fun of just crawling along ? ' 

4 Oh, come, Peggy, we never crawl,' said her 
father. 

4 No, indeed,' said her mother, in a tone of which 

Pethel laughingly said it would put me off coming 

out with them this afternoon. I said, with an 

expert air to reassure Mrs. Pethel, that it wasn't 

124 



JAMES PETHEL 

fast driving, but only bad driving, that was a danger. 
4 There, Mother ! ' cried Peggy. ' Isn't that what 
we're always telling you ? ' 

I felt that they were always either telling Mrs. 
Pethel something or, as in the matter of that in- 
tended bath, not telling her something. It seemed 
to me possible that Peggy advised her father about 
his 4 investments.' I wondered whether they had 
yet told Mrs. Pethel of their intention to go on to 
Switzerland for some climbing. 

Of his secretiveness for his wife's sake I had a 
touching little instance after luncheon. We had 
adjourned to have coffee in front of the hotel. The 
car was already in attendance, and Peggy had 
darted off to make her daily inspection of it. 
Pethel had given me a cigar, and his wife presently 
noticed that he himself was not smoking. He 
explained to her that he thought he had smoked 
too much lately, and that he was going to ' knock 
it off ' for a while. I would not have smiled if he 
had met my eye. But his avoidance of it made me 
quite sure that he really had been ' thinking over ' 
what I had said last night about nicotine and its 
possibly deleterious action on the gambling thrill. 

Mrs. Pethel saw the smile that I could not 
repress. I explained that I was wishing / could 
knock off tobacco, and envying her husband's 
strength of character. She smiled too, but wanly, 
with her eyes on him. * Nobody has so much 
strength of character as he has,' she said. 
125 



SEVEN MEN 

* Nonsense ! ' he laughed. 4 I'm the weakest of 
men.' 

1 Yes,' she said quietly. ' That's true, too, 
James.' 

Again he laughed, but he flushed. I saw that 
Mrs. Pethel also had faintly flushed ; and I became 
horribly conscious of following suit. In the sudden 
glow and silence created by Mrs. Pethel's paradox, I 
was grateful to the daughter for bouncing back into 
our midst and asking how soon we should be ready 
to start. 

Pethel looked at his wife, who looked at me and 
rather strangely asked if I were sure I wanted to go 
with them. I protested that of course I did. 
Pethel asked her if she really wanted to come : 
4 You see, dear, there was the run yesterday from 
Calais. And to-morrow you'll be on the road again, 
and all the days after.' 

4 Yes,' said Peggy, ' I'm sure you'd much rather 
stay at home, darling Mother, and have a good rest.' 

4 Shall we go and put on our things, Peggy ? ' 
replied Mrs. Pethel, rising from her chair. She 
asked her husband whether he were taking the 
chauffeur with him. He said he thought not. 

1 Oh, hurrah ! ' cried Peggy. 4 Then I can be on 
the front seat ! ' 

1 No, dear,' said her mother. * I am sure Mr. 
Beerbohm would like to be on the front seat.' 

4 You'd like to be with Mother, wouldn't you ? ' 
the girl appealed. I replied with all possible 
126 



JAMES PETHEL 

emphasis that I should like to be with Mrs. Pethel. 
But presently, when the mother and daughter 
reappeared in the guise of motorists, it became clear 
that my aspiration had been set aside. ' I am to 
be with Mother,' said Peggy. 

I was inwardly glad that Mrs. Pethel could, after 
all, assert herself to some purpose. Had I thought 
she disliked me, I should have been hurt ; but I 
was sure her desire that I should not sit with her 
was due merely to a belief that a person on the 
front seat was less safe in case of accidents than a 
person behind. And of course I did not expect her 
to prefer my life to her daughter's. Poor lady ! 
My heart was with her. As the car glided along 
the sea-front and then under the Norman archway, 
through the town and past the environs, I wished 
that her husband inspired in her as much confidence 
as he did in me. For me the sight of his clear, firm 
profile (he did not wear motor-goggles) was an 
assurance in itself. From time to time (for I too 
was ungoggled) I looked round to nod and smile 
cheerfully at his wife. She always returned the nod, 
but left the smile to be returned by the daughter. 

Pethel, like the good driver he was, did not talk : 
just drove. But he did, as we came out on to the 
Rouen road, say that in France he always rather 
missed the British police-traps. ' Not,' he added, 
1 that I've ever fallen into one. But the chance 
that a policeman may at any moment dart out, and 
land you in a bit of a scrape, does rather add to the 
127 



SEVEN MEN 

excitement, don't you think ? ' Though I answered 
in the tone of one to whom the chance of a police- 
trap is the very salt of life, I did not inwardly like 
the spirit of his remark. However, I dismissed it 
from my mind ; and the sun was shining, and the 
wind had dropped : it was an ideal day for motor- 
ing ; and the Norman landscape had never looked 
lovelier to me in its width of sober and silvery 
grace. 

I presently felt that this landscape was not, after 
all, doing itself full justice. Was it not rushing 
rather too quickly past ? ' James ! ' said a shrill, 
faint voice from behind ; and gradually — 4 Oh, 
darling Mother, really ! ' protested another voice — 
the landscape slackened pace. But after a while, 
little by little, the landscape lost patience, forgot its 
good manners, and flew faster, and faster than 
before. The road rushed furiously beneath us, like 
a river in spate. Avenues of poplars flashed past 
us, every tree of them on either side hissing and 
swishing angrily in the draught we made. Motors 
going Rouen-wards seemed to be past as quickly as 
motors that bore down on us. Hardly had I espied 
in the landscape ahead a chateau or other object of 
interest before I was craning my neck round for a 
final glimpse of it as it faded on the backward 
horizon. An endless up-hill road was breasted and 
crested in a twinkling and transformed into a 
decline near the end of which our car leapt straight 
across to the opposite ascent, and — ' James ! - 
128 



JAMES PETHEL 

again, and again by degrees the laws of Nature were 
re-established, but again by degrees revoked. I 
didn't doubt that speed in itself was no danger ; but 
when the road was about to make a sharp curve 
why shouldn't Pethel, just as a matter of form, slow 
down slightly and sound a note or two of the 
hooter ? Suppose another car were — well, that was 
all right : the road was clear. But at the next 
turning, when our car neither slackened nor hooted 
and was, for an instant, full on the wrong side of 
the road, I had within me a contraction which (at 
thought of what must have been if . . .) lasted 
though all was well. Loth to betray fear, I hadn't 
turned my face to Pethel. Eyes front ! And how 
about that wagon ahead, huge hay-wagon plodding 
with its back to us, seeming to occupy whole road ? 
Surely Pethel would slacken, hoot ? No. Imagine 
a needle threaded with one swift gesture from afar. 
Even so was it that we shot, between wagon and 
road's edge, through ; whereon, confronting us 
within a few yards — inches now, but we swerved — 
was a cart, a cart that incredibly we grazed not as 
we rushed on, on. Now indeed had I turned my 
eyes on Pethel's profile. And my eyes saw there 
that which stilled, with a greater emotion, all fear 
and wonder in me. 

I think that for the first instant, oddly, what I 

felt was merely satisfaction, not hatred ; for I all 

but asked him whether by not smoking to-day he 

had got a keener edge to his thrills. I understood 

129 I 



SEVEN MEN 

him, and for an instant this sufficed me. Those 
pursed-out lips, so queerly different from the com- 
pressed lips of the normal motorist, and seeming, as 
elsewhere last night, to denote no more than pensive 
interest, had told me suddenly all that I needed to 
know about Pethel. Here, as there — and oh, ever 
so much better here than there 1 — he could gratify 
the passion that was in him. No need of any 
4 make-believe ' here ! I remembered the strange 
look he had given when I asked if his gambling were 
always ' a life-and-death affair.' Here was the real 
thing — the authentic game, for the highest stakes ! 
And here was I, a little extra-stake tossed on to the 
board. He had vowed I had it 4 in ' me to do 
* something big.' Perhaps, though, there had been 
a touch of his make-believe about that. . . I am 
afraid it was not before my thought about myself 
that my moral sense began to operate and my 
hatred of Pethel set in. But I claim that I did see 
myself as no more than a mere detail in his villainy. 
Nor, in my just wrath for other sakes, was I without 
charity even for him. I gave him due credit foi 
risking his own life — for having doubtless risked it, 
it and none other, again and again in the course of 
his adventurous — and abstemious — life by field and 
flood. I was even rather touched by memory of his 
insistence last night on another glass of that water 
which just might give him typhoid ; rather touched 
by memory of his unsaying that he ' never ' touched 
alcohol — he who, in point of fact, had to be always 
130 



JAMES PETHEL 

gambling on something or other. I gave him due 
credit, too, for his devotion to his daughter. But 
his use of that devotion, his cold use of it to secure 
for himself the utmost thrill of gambling, did seem 
utterly abominable to me. 

And it was even more for the mother than for the 
daughter that I was incensed. That daughter did 
not know him, did but innocently share his damnable 
love of chances. But that wife had for years known 
him at least as well as I knew him now. Here 
again, I gave him credit for wishing, though he 
didn't love her, to spare her what he could. That 
he didn't love her I presumed from his indubitable 
willingness not to stake her in this afternoon's 
game. That he never had loved her — had taken 
her, in his precocious youth, simply as a gigantic 
chance against him — was likely enough. So much 
the more credit to him for such consideration as he 
showed her ; but little enough this was. He could 
wish to save her from being a looker-on at his game ; 
but he could, he couldn't not, go on playing. 
Assuredly she was right in deeming him at once the 
strongest and the weakest of men. * Rather a 
nervous woman ' ! I remembered an engraving 
that had hung in my room at Oxford — and in 
scores of other rooms there : a presentment by 
Sir Marcus (then Mr.) Stone of a very pretty young 
person in a Gainsborough hat, seated beneath an 
ancestral elm, looking as though she were about to 
cry, and entitled ' A Gambler's Wife.' Mrs. Pethel 
131 



SEVEN MEN 

was not like that. Of her there were no engravings 
for undergraduate hearts to melt at. But there was 
one man, certainly, whose compassion was very much 
at her service. How was he going to help her ? 

I know not how many hair's-breadth escapes we 
may have had while these thoughts passed through 
my brain. I had closed my eyes. So preoccupied 
was I that, but for the constant rush of air against 
my face, I might, for aught I knew, have been 
sitting ensconced in an arm-chair at home. After a 
while, I was aware that this rush had abated ; I 
opened my eyes to the old familiar streets of Rouen. 
We were to have tea at the H6tel d'Angleterre. 
What was to be my line of action ? Should I take 
Pethel aside and say ' Swear to me, on your word 
of honour as a gentleman, that you will never again 
touch the driving-gear (or whatever you call it) of 
a motor-car. Otherwise I shall expose you to the 
world. Meanwhile, we shall return to Dieppe by 
train ' ? He might flush — for I knew him capable 
of flushing — as he asked me to explain. And after ? 
He would laugh in my face. He would advise me 
not to go motoring any more. He might even 
warn me not to go back to Dieppe in one of those 
dangerous railway-trains. He might even urge me 
to wait until a nice Bath chair had been sent out 
for me from England. . . 

I heard a voice (mine, alas) saying brightly ' Well, 
here we are ! ' I helped the ladies to descend. Tea 
was ordered. Pethel refused that stimulant and 
132 



JAMES PETHEL 

had a glass of water. I had a liqueur brandy. It 
was evident to me that tea meant much to Mrs. 
Pethel. She looked stronger after her second cup, 
and younger after her third. Still, it was my duty 
to help her, if I could. While I talked and laughed, 
I did not forget that. But — what on earth was I 
to do ? I am no hero. I hate to be ridiculous. I 
am inveterately averse from any sort of fuss. 
Besides, how was I to be sure that my own personal 
dread of the return- journey hadn't something to do 
with my intention of tackling Pethel ? I thought 
it had. What this woman would dare daily 
because she was a mother, could not I dare once ? 
I reminded myself of Pethel's reputation for in- 
variable luck. I reminded myself that he was an 
extraordinarily skilful driver. To that skill and luck 
I would pin my faith. . . 

What I seem to myself, do you ask of me ? 
But I answered your question a few lines back. 
Enough that my faith was rewarded. We did 
reach Dieppe safely. I still marvel that we did. 

That evening, in the vestibule of the Casino, 
Grierson came up to me : ' Seen Jimmy Pethel ? 
He was asking for you. Wants to see you par- 
ticularly. He's in the baccarat room, punting — 
winning hand over fist, of course. Said he'd seldom 
met a man he liked more than you. Great character, 
what ? ' One is always glad to be liked, and I 
plead guilty to a moment's gratification at the 
announcement that Pethel liked me. But I did not 
133 



SEVEN MEN 

go and seek him in the baccarat room. A great 
character assuredly he was ; but of a kind with 
which (very imperfect though I am, and no censor) 
I prefer not to associate. 

Why he had particularly wanted to see me was 
made clear in a note sent by him to my room early 
next morning. He wondered if I could be induced 
to join them in their little tour. He hoped I 
wouldn't think it great cheek, his asking me. He 
thought it might rather amuse me to come. It 
would be a very great pleasure for his wife. He 
hoped I wouldn't say No. Would I send a line by 
bearer ? They would be starting at 3 o'clock. He 
was mine sincerely. 

It was not too late to tackle him, even now. 
Should I go round to his hotel ? I hesitated and — 
well, I told you at the outset that my last meeting 
with him was on the morrow of my first. I forget 
what I wrote to him, but am sure that the excuse 
I made for myself was a good and graceful one, and 
that I sent my kindest regards to Mrs. Pethel. She 
had not (I am sure of that, too) authorised her 
husband to say she would like me to come with 
them. Else would not the thought of her have 
haunted me so poignantly as for a long time it did. 
I do not know whether she is still alive. No 
mention is made of her in the obituary notice 
which woke these memories in me. This notice I 
will, however, transcribe, because (for all its crude- 
ness of phraseology) it is rather interesting both as 
134 



JAMES PETHEL 

an echo and as an amplification. Its title is — 
4 Death of Wealthy Aviator.' Its text is—* Wide- 
spread regret will be felt in Leicestershire at the 
tragic death of Mr. James Pethel, who had long 
resided there and was very popular as an all-round 
sportsman. In recent years he had been much 
interested in aviation, and had become one of the 
most enthusiastic of amateur airmen. Yesterday 
afternoon he fell down dead quite suddenly as he 
was returning to his house, apparently in his usual 
health and spirits, after descending from a short 
flight which despite an extremely high wind he had 
made on his new biplane and on which he was 
accompanied by his married daughter and her 
infant son. It is not expected that an inquest will 
be necessary, as his physician, Dr. Saunders, has 
certified death to be due to heart-disease, from 
which, it appears, the deceased gentleman had been 
suffering for some years. Dr. Saunders adds that 
he had repeatedly warned deceased that any strain 
on the nervous system might prove fatal.' 

Thus — for I presume that his ailment had its 
origin in his habits — James Pethel did not, despite 
that merely pensive look of his, live his life with 
impunity. And by reason of that life he died. As 
for the manner of his death, enough that he did 
die. Let not our hearts be vexed that his great 
luck was with him to the end. 



135 



A. V. LAIDER 



A. V. LAIDER 



I UNPACKED my things and went down to 
await luncheon. 
It was good to be here again in this little 
old sleepy hostel by the sea. Hostel I say, though 
it spelt itself without an s and even placed a 
circumflex above the o. It made no other pre- 
tension. It was very cosy indeed. 

I had been here just a year before, in mid- 
February, after an attack of influenza. And now I 
had returned, after an attack of influenza. Nothing 
was changed. It had been raining when I left, and 
the waiter — there was but a single, a very old 
waiter — had told me it was only a shower. That 
waiter was still here, not a day older. And the 
shower had not ceased. 

Steadfastly it fell on to the sands, steadfastly into 
the iron-grey sea. I stood looking out at it from 
the windows of the hall, admiring it very much. 
There seemed to be little else to do. What little 
there was I did. I mastered the contents of a blue 
hand-bill which, pinned to the wall just beneath the 
framed engraving of Queen Victoria's Coronation, 
139 



SEVEN MEN 

gave token of a concert that was to be held — or 
rather, was to have been held some weeks ago — in 
the Town Hall, for the benefit of the Life-Boat 
Fund. I looked at the barometer, tapped it, was 
not the wiser. I glanced at a pamphlet about Our 
Dying Industries (a theme on which Mr. Joseph 
Chamberlain was at that time trying to alarm us). 
I wandered to the letter-board. 

These letter-boards always fascinate me. Usually 
some two or three of the envelopes stuck into the 
cross-garterings have a certain newness and fresh- 
ness. They seem sure they will yet be claimed. 
Why not ? Why shouldn't John Doe, Esq., or Mrs. 
Richard Roe, turn up at any moment ? I do not 
know. I can only say that nothing in the world 
seems to me more unlikely. Thus it is that these 
young bright envelopes touch my heart even more 
than do their dusty and sallow seniors. Sour 
resignation is less touching than impatience for 
what will not be, than the eagerness that has to 
wane and wither. Soured beyond measure these 
old envelopes are. They are not nearly so nice as 
they should be to the young ones. They lose no 
chance of sneering and discouraging. Such dia- 
logues as this are only too frequent : 

A Very Young Envelope. Something in me 
whispers that he will come to-day ! 

A Very Old Envelope. He? Well, that's 
good ! Ha, ha, ha ! Why didn't he come last week, 
when you came ? What reason have you for sup- 
140 



A. V. LAIDER 

posing he'll ever come now ? It isn't as if he were 
a frequenter of the place. He's never been here. 
His name is utterly unknown here. You don't 
suppose he's coming on the chance of finding you ? 

A. V. Y. E. It may seem silly, but — something 
in me whispers 

A. V. O. E. Something in you ? One has only 
to look at you to see there's nothing in you but a 
note scribbled to him by a cousin. Look at me J 
There are three sheets, closely written, in me. The 
lady to whom I am addressed 

A. V. Y. E. Yes, sir, yes ; you told me all about 
her yesterday. 

A. V. O. E. And I shall do so to-day and to- 
morrow and every day and all day long. That 
young lady was a widow. She stayed here many 
times. She was delicate, and the air suited her. 
She was poor, and the tariff was just within her 
means. She was lonely, and had need of love. I 
have in me for her a passionate avowal and strictly 
honourable proposal, written to her, after many 
rough copies, by a gentleman who had made her 
acquaintance under this very roof. He was rich, he 
was charming, he was in the prime of life. He had 
asked if he might write to her. She had flutteringly 
granted his request. He posted me to her the day 
after his return to London. I looked forward to 
being torn open by her. I was very sure she would 
wear me and my contents next to her bosom. She 
was gone. She had left no address. She never 
141 



SEVEN MEN 

returned. . . This I tell you, and shall continue to 
tell you, not because I want any of your callow 
sympathy, — no, thank you ! — but that you may 
judge how much less than slight are the chances 
that you yourself 

But my reader has overheard these dialogues as 
often as I. He wants to know what was odd about 
this particular letter-board before which I was 
standing. At first glance I saw nothing odd about 
it. But presently I distinguished a handwriting 
that was vaguely familiar. It was mine. I stared, 
I wondered. There is always a slight shock in 
seeing an envelope of one's own after it has gone 
through the post. It looks as if it had gone through 
so much. But this was the first time I had ever 
seen an envelope of mine eating its heart out in 
bondage on a letter-board. This was outrageous. 
This was hardly to be believed. Sheer kindness 
had impelled me to write to ' A. V. Laider, Esq.', 
and this was the result ! I hadn't minded receiving 
no answer. Only now, indeed, did I remember that 
I hadn't received one. In multitudinous London 
the memory of A. V. Laider and his trouble had 
soon passed from my mind. But — well, what a 
lesson not to go out of one's way to write to casual 
acquaintances ! 

My envelope seemed not to recognise me as its 

writer. Its gaze was the more piteous for being 

blank. Even so had I once been gazed at by a dog 

that I had lost and, after many days, found in the 

142 



A. V. LAIDER 

Battersea Home. " I don't know who you are, but, 
whoever you are, claim me, take me out of this ! * 
That was my dog's appeal. This was the appeal of 
my envelope. 

I raised my hand to the letter-board, meaning to 
effect a swift and lawless rescue, but paused at 
sound of a footstep behind me. The old waiter had 
come to tell me that my luncheon was ready. I 
followed him out of the hall, not, however, without 
a bright glance across my shoulder to reassure the 
little captive that I should come back. 

I had the sharp appetite of the convalescent, and 
this the sea-air had whetted already to a finer edge. 
In touch with a dozen oysters, and with stout, I 
soon shed away the unreasoning anger I had felt 
against A. V. Laider. I became merely sorry for 
him that he had not received a letter which might 
perhaps have comforted him. In touch with 
cutlets, I felt how sorely he had needed comfort. 
And anon, by the big bright fireside of that small 
dark smoking-room where, a year ago, on the last 
evening of my stay here, he and I had at length 
spoken to each other, I reviewed in detail the 
tragic experience he had told me ; and I fairly 
revelled in reminiscent sympathy with him. . . . 

A. V. Laider — I had looked him up in the visitors' 

book on the night of his arrival. I myself had 

arrived the day before, and had been rather sorry 

there was no one else staying here. A convalescent 

148 



SEVEN MEN 

by the sea likes to have some one to observe, to 
wonder about, at meal-time. I was glad when, on 
my second evening, I found seated at the table 
opposite to mine another guest. I was the gladder 
because he was just the right kind of guest. He 
was enigmatic. By this I mean that he did not 
look soldierly nor financial nor artistic nor anything 
definite at all . He offered a clean slate for speculation . 
And thank heaven ! he evidently wasn't going to spoil 
the fun by engaging me in conversation later on. A 
decently unsociable man, anxious to be left alone. 

The heartiness of his appetite, in contrast with 
his extreme fragility of aspect and limpness of 
demeanour, assured me that he, too, had just had 
influenza. I liked him for that. Now and again 
our eyes met and were instantly parted. We 
managed, as a rule, to observe each other indirectly. 
I was sure it was not merely because he had been 
ill that he looked interesting. Nor did it seem to 
me that a spiritual melancholy, though I imagined 
him sad at the best of times, was his sole asset. I 
conjectured that he was clever. I thought he might 
also be imaginative. At first glance I had mis- 
trusted him. A shock of white hair, combined with 
a young face and dark eyebrows, does somehow 
make a man look like a charlatan. But it is foolish 
to be guided by an accident of colour. I had soon 
rejected my first impression of my fellow-diner. I 
found him very sympathetic. 

Anywhere but in England it would be impossible 
144 



A. V. LAIDER 

for two solitary men, howsoever much reduced by- 
influenza, to spend five or six days in the same 
hostel and not exchange a single word. That is one 
of the charms of England. Had Laider and I 
been born and bred in any other land we should 
have become acquainted before the end of our first 
evening in the small smoking-room, and have found 
ourselves irrevocably committed to go on talking to 
each other throughout the rest of our visit. We 
might, it is true, have happened to like each other 
more than any one we had ever met. This off- 
chance may have occurred to us both. But it 
counted for nothing as against the certain surrender 
of quietude and liberty. We slightly bowed to each 
other as we entered or left the dining-room or 
smoking-room, and as we met on the widespread 
sands or in the shop that had a small and faded 
circulating library. That was all. Our mutual 
aloofness was a positive bond between us. 

Had he been much older than I, the responsibility 
for our silence would of course have been his alone. 
But he was not, I judged, more than five or six 
years ahead of me, and thus I might without 
impropriety have taken it on myself to perform 
that hard and perilous feat which English people 
call, with a shiver, 4 breaking the ice.' He had 
reason, therefore, to be as grateful to me as I to 
him. Each of us, not the less frankly because 
silently, recognised his obligation to the other. And 
when, on the last evening of my stay, the ice 
145 K 



SEVEN MEN 

actually was broken no ill-will rose between us : 
neither of us was to blame. 

It was a Sunday evening. I had been out for a 
long last walk and had come in very late to dinner. 
Laider left his table almost immediately after I sat 
down to mine. When I entered the smoking-room 
I found him reading a weekly review which I had 
bought the day before. It was a crisis. He could 
not silently offer, nor could I have silently accepted, 
sixpence. It was a crisis. We faced it like men. 
He made, by word of mouth, a graceful apology. 
Verbally, not by signs, I besought him to go on 
reading. But this, of course, was a vain counsel of 
perfection. The social code forced us to talk now. 
We obeyed it like men. To reassure him that our 
position was not so desperate as it might seem, I 
took the earliest opportunity to mention that I was 
going away early next morning. In the tone of his 
* Oh, are you ? ' he tried bravely to imply that he 
was sorry, even now, to hear that. In a way, 
perhaps, he really was sorry. We had got on so 
well together, he and I. Nothing could efface the 
memory of that. Nay, we seemed to be hitting it 
off even now. Influenza was not our sole theme. 
We passed from that to the aforesaid weekly 
review, and to a correspondence that was raging 
therein on Faith and Reason. 

This correspondence had now reached its fourth 
and penultimate stage — its Australian stage. It is 
hard to see why these correspondences spring up ; 
146 



A. V. LAIDER 

one only knows that thej^ do spring up, suddenly, 
like street crowds. There comes, it would seem, a 
moment when the whole English-speaking race is 
unconsciously bursting to have its say about some 
one thing — the split infinitive, or the habits of 
migratory birds, or faith and reason, or what-not. 
Whatever weekly review happens at such a moment 
to contain a reference, however remote, to the 
theme in question reaps the storm. Gusts of letters 
blow in from all corners of the British Isles. These 
are presently reinforced by Canada in full blast. A 
few weeks later the Anglo-Indians weigh in. In due 
course we have the help of our Australian cousins. 
By that time, however, we of the Mother Country 
have got our second wind, and so determined are 
we to make the most of it that at last even the 
Editor suddenly loses patience and says c This 
correspondence must now cease. — Ed.' and wonders 
why on earth he ever allowed anything so tedious 
and idiotic to begin. 

I pointed out to Laider one of the Australian 
letters that had especially pleased me in the current 
issue. It was from ' A Melbourne Man,' and was 
of the abrupt kind which declares that • all your 
correspondents have been groping in the dark ' and 
then settles the whole matter in one short sharp 
flash. The flash in this instance was ' Reason is 
faith, faith reason — that is all we know on earth 
and all we need to know.' The writer then inclosed 
his card and was, etc., 4 A Melbourne Man.' I said 
147 



SEVEN MEN 

to Laider how very restful it was, after influenza, 
to read anything that meant nothing whatsoever. 
Laider was inclined to take the letter more seriously 
than I, and to be mildly metaphysical. I said that 
for me faith and reason were two separate things, 
and (as I am no good at metaphysics, however mild) 
I offered a definite example, to coax the talk on to 
ground where I should be safer. * Palmistry, for 
example,' I said. ' Deep down in my heart I 
believe in palmistry.' 

Laider turned in his chair. ' You believe in 
palmistry ? ' 

I hesitated. 4 Yes, somehow I do. Why ? I 
haven't the slightest notion. I can give myself all 
sorts of reasons for laughing it to scorn. My 
common sense utterly rejects it. Of course the 
shape of the hand means something — is more or less 
an index of character. But the idea that my past 

and future are neatly mapped out on my palms ' 

I shrugged my shoulders. 

4 You don't like that idea ? ' asked Laider in his 
gentle, rather academic voice. 

4 1 only say it's a grotesque idea.' 

* Yet you do believe in it ? ' 

1 I've a grotesque belief in it, yes.' 

1 Are you sure your reason for calling this idea 
" grotesque " isn't merely that you dislike it ? ' 

4 Well,' I said, with the thrilling hope that he was 
a companion in absurdity, 4 doesn't it seem grotesque 
to you ? 

148 



A. V. LAIDER 

4 It seems strange.' 

4 You believe in it f ' 

4 Oh, absolutely.' 

4 Hurrah ! ' 

He smiled at my pleasure, and I, at the risk of 
re-entanglement in metaphysics, claimed him as 
standing shoulder to shoulder with me against 4 A 
Melbourne Man.' This claim he gently disputed. 
4 You may think me very prosaic,' he said, 4 but I 
can't believe without evidence.' 

4 Well, I'm equally prosaic and equally at a dis- 
advantage : I can't take my own belief as evidence, 
and I've no other evidence to go on.' 

He asked me if I had ever made a study of 
palmistry. I said I had read one of Desbarolles' 
books years ago, and one of Heron- Allen's. But, 
he asked, had I tried to test them by the lines on 
my own hands or on the hands of my friends ? I 
confessed that my actual practice in palmistry had 
been of a merely passive kind — the prompt exten- 
sion of my palm to any one who would be so good 
as to 4 read ' it and truckle for a few minutes to my 
egoism. (I hoped Laider might do this.) 

4 Then I almost wonder,' he said, with his sad 
smile, 4 that you haven't lost your belief, after all 
the nonsense you must have heard. There are so 
many young girls who go in for palmistry. I am 
sure all the five foolish virgins were 44 awfully keen 
on it " and used to say 44 You can be led, but not 
driven," and 44 You are likely to have a serious 
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SEVEN MEN 

illness between the ages of forty and forty-five," 
and " You are by nature rather lazy, but can be 
very energetic by fits and starts." And most of the 
professionals, I'm told, are as silly as the young girls.' 

For the honour of the profession, I named three 
practitioners whom I had found really good at 
reading character. He asked whether any of them 
had been right about past events. I confessed 
that, as a matter of fact, all three of them had been 
right in the main. This seemed to amuse him. He 
asked whether any of them had predicted anything 
which had since come true. I confessed that all 
three had predicted that I should do several things 
which I had since done rather unexpectedly. He 
asked if I didn't accept this as at any rate a scrap 
of evidence. I said I could only regard it as a 
fluke — a rather remarkable fluke. 

The superiority of his sad smile was beginning to 
get on my nerves. I wanted him to see that he 
was as absurd as I. ' Suppose,' I said, c suppose for 
sake of argument that you and I are nothing but 
helpless automata created to do just this and that, 
and to have just that and this done to us. Suppose, 
in fact, we haven't any free will whatsoever. Is it 
likely or conceivable that the Power that fashioned 
us would take the trouble to jot down in cipher on 
our hands just what was in store for us ? ' 

Laider did not answer this question, he did but 
annoyingly ask me another. * You believe in free 
will?' 

150 



A. V. LAIDER 

1 Yes, of course. I'll be hanged if I'm an au- 
tomaton.' 

' And you believe in free will just as in palmistry 
— without any reason ? ' 

1 Oh, no. Everything points to our having free 
will.' 

4 Everything ? What, for instance ? ' 

This rather cornered me. I dodged out, as 
lightly as I could, by saying ' I suppose you would 
say it was written in my hand that I should be a 
believer in free will.' 

4 Ah, I've no doubt it is.' 

I held out my palms. But, to my great dis- 
appointment, he looked quickly away from them. 
He had ceased to smile. There was agitation in his 
voice as he explained that he never looked at 
people's hands now. 4 Never now — never again.' 
He shook his head as though to beat off some 
memory. 

I was much embarrassed by my indiscretion. I 
hastened to tide over the awkward moment by 
saying that if / could read hands I wouldn't, for 
fear of the awful things I might see there. 

4 Awful things, yes,' he whispered, nodding at 
the fire. 

4 Not,' I said in self-defence, 4 that there's any- 
thing very awful, so far as I know, to be read in my 
hands.' 

He turned his gaze from the fire to me. 4 You 
aren't a murderer, for example ? ' 
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SEVEN MEN 

4 Oh, no,' I replied, with a nervous laugh. 

4 / am.' 

This was a more than awkward, it was a painful, 
moment for me ; and I am afraid I must have 
started or winced, for he instantly begged my 
pardon. 4 1 don't know,' he exclaimed, * why I 
said it. I'm usually a very reticent man. But 
sometimes — ' He pressed his brow. 4 What you 
must think of me ! ' 

I begged him to dismiss the matter from his mind. 

4 It's very good of you to say that ; but — I've 
placed myself as well as you in a false position. I 
ask you to believe that I'm not the sort of man 
who is " wanted " or ever was " wanted " by the 
police. I should be bowed out of any police-station 
at which I gave myself up. I'm not a murderer in 
any bald sense of the word. No.' 

My face must have perceptibly brightened, for 
* Ah,' he said, 4 don't imagine I'm not a murderer 
at all. Morally, I am.' He looked at the clock. I 
pointed out that the night was young. He assured 
me that his story was not a long one. I assured 
him that I hoped it was. He said I was very kind. 
I denied this. He warned me that what he had to 
tell might rather tend to stiffen my unwilling faith 
in palmistry, and to shake my opposite and cherished 
faith in free will. I said 4 Never mind.' He 
stretched his hands pensively toward the fire. I 
settled myself back in my chair. 

4 My hands,' he said, staring at the backs of them, 
152 



A. V. LAIDER 

* are the hands of a very weak man. I dare say 
you know enough of palmistry to see that for 
yourself. You notice the slightness of the thumbs 
and of the two " little " fingers. They are the 
hands of a weak and over-sensitive man — a man 
without confidence, a man who would certainly 
waver in an emergency. Rather Hamlet-ish hands,' 
he mused. ' And I'm like Hamlet in other respects, 
too : I'm no fool, and I've rather a noble disposition, 
and I'm unlucky. But Hamlet was luckier than I 
in one thing : he was a murderer by accident, 
whereas the murders that I committed one day 
fourteen years ago — for I must tell you it wasn't 
one murder, but many murders that I committed — 
were all of them due to the wretched inherent 
weakness of my own wretched self. 

4 1 was twenty-six — no, twenty-seven years old, 
and rather a nondescript person, as I am now. I 
was supposed to have been called to the Bar. In 
fact, I believe I had been called to the Bar. I 
hadn't listened to the call. I never intended to 
practise, and I never did practise. I only wanted 
an excuse in the eyes of the world for existing. I 
suppose the nearest I have ever come to practising 
is now at this moment : I am defending a murderer. 
My father had left me well enough provided with 
money. I was able to go my own desultory way, 
riding my hobbies where I would. I had a good 
stableful of hobbies. Palmistry was one of them. 
I was rather ashamed of this one. It seemed to me 
158 



SEVEN MEN 

absurd, as it seems to you. Like you, though, I 
believed in it. Unlike you, I had done more than 
merely read a book or so about it. I had read 
innumerable books about it. I had taken casts of 
all my friends' hands. I had tested and tested 
again the points at which Desbarolles dissented 
from the gypsies, and — well, enough that I had gone 
into it all rather thoroughly, and was as sound a 
palmist as a man may be without giving his whole 
life to palmistry. 

* One of the first things I had seen in my own 
hand, as soon as I had learned to read it, was that 
at about the age of twenty-six I should have a 
narrow escape from death — from a violent death. 
There was a clean break in the life-line, and a square 
joining it — the protective square, you know. The 
markings were precisely the same in both hands. It 
was to be the narrowest escape possible. And I 
wasn't going to escape without injury, either. 
That is what bothered me. There was a faint line 
connecting the break in the life-line with a star on 
the line of health. Against that star was another 
square. I was to recover from the injury, whatever 
it might be. Still, I didn't exactly look forward to 
it. Soon after I had reached the age of twenty-five, 
I began to feel uncomfortable. The thing might be 
going to happen at any moment. In palmistry, 
you know, it is impossible to pin an event down 
hard and fast to one year. This particular event 
was to be when I was about twenty-six ; it mightn't 
154 



A. V. LAIDER 

be till I was twenty-seven ; it might be while I was 
only twenty-five. 

1 And I used to tell myself that it mightn't be at 
all. My reason rebelled against the whole notion 
of palmistry, just as yours does. I despised my 
faith in the thing, just as you despise yours. I used 
to try not to be so ridiculously careful as I was 
whenever I crossed a street. I lived in London at 
that time. Motor-cars had not yet come in, but — 
what hours, all told, I must have spent standing on 
curbs, very circumspect, very lamentable ! It was 
a pity, I suppose, that I had no definite occupation 
— something to take me out of myself. I was one 
of the victims of private means. There came a 
time when I drove in four-wheelers rather than in 
hansoms, and was doubtful of four-wheelers. Oh, 
I assure you, I was very lamentable indeed. 

4 If a rail way- journey could be avoided, I avoided 
it. My uncle had a place in Hampshire. I was 
very fond of him and of his wife. Theirs was the 
only house I ever went to stay in now. I was there 
for a week in November, not long after my twenty- 
seventh birthday. There were other people staying 
there, and at the end of the week we all travelled 
back to London together. There were six of us in 
the carriage : Colonel Elbourn and his wife and 
their daughter, a girl of seventeen ; and another 
married couple, the Blakes. I had been at Win- 
chester with Blake, but had hardly seen him since 
that time. He was in the Indian Civil, and was 
155 



SEVEN MEN 

home on leave. He was sailing for India next 
week. His wife was to remain in England for some 
months, and then join him out there. They had 
been married five years. She was now just twenty- 
four years old. He told me that this was her age. 

4 The Elbourns I had never met before. They 
were charming people. We had all been very happy 
together. The only trouble had been that on the 
last night, at dinner, my uncle asked me if I still 
went in for " the gypsy business," as he always 
called it ; and of course the three ladies were 
immensely excited, and implored me to " do " their 
hands. I told them it was all nonsense, I said I 
had forgotten all I once knew, I made various 
excuses ; and the matter dropped. It was quite 
true that I had given up reading hands. I avoided 
anything that might remind me of what was in my 
own hands. And so, next morning, it was a great 
bore to me when, soon after the train started, Mrs. 
Elbourn said it would be " too cruel " of me if I 
refused to do their hands now. Her daughter and 
Mrs. Blake also said it would be " brutal " ; and 
they were all taking off their gloves, and — well, of 
course I had to give in. 

1 1 went to work methodically on Mrs. Elbourn's 
hands, in the usual way, you know, first sketching 
the character from the backs of them ; and there 
was the usual hush, broken by the usual little noises 
— grunts of assent from the husband, cooings of 
recognition from the daughter. Presently I asked 
156 



A. V. LAIDER 

to see the palms, and from them I filled in the 
details of Mrs. Elbourn's character before going on 
to the events in her life. But while I talked I was 
calculating how old Mrs. Elbourn might be. In my 
first glance at her palms I had seen that she could 
not have been less than twenty-five when she 
married. The daughter was seventeen. Suppose 
the daughter had been born a year later — how old 
would the mother be ? Forty-three, yes. Not less 
than that, poor woman ! ' 

Laider looked at me. ' Why " poor woman," 
you wonder ? Well, in that first glance I had seen 
other things than her marriage-line. I had seen a 
very complete break in the lines of life and of fate. 
I had seen violent death there. At what age ? Not 
later, not possibly later, than forty- three. While I 
talked to her about the things that had happened 
in her girlhood, the back of my brain was hard at 
work on those marks of catastrophe. I was horribly 
wondering that she was still alive. It was impossible 
that between her and that catastrophe there could 
be more than a few short months. And all the 
time I was talking ; and I suppose I acquitted 
myself well, for I remember that when I ceased I 
had a sort of ovation from the Elbourns. 

1 It was a relief to turn to another pair of hands. 
Mrs. Blake was an amusing young creature, and her 
hands were very characteristic, and prettily odd in 
form. I allowed myself to be rather whimsical 
about her nature, and, having begun in that vein, I 
157 



SEVEN MEN 

went on in it — somehow — even after she had turned 
her palms. In those palms were reduplicated the 
signs I had seen in Mrs. Elbourn's. It was as 
though they had been copied neatly out. The only 
difference was in the placing of them ; and it was 
this difference that was the most horrible point. 
The fatal age in Mrs. Blake's hands was — not past, 
no, for here she was. But she might have died 
when she was twenty-one. Twenty-three seemed 
to be the utmost span. She was twenty-four, you 
know. 

4 I have said that I am a weak man. And you 
will have good proof of that directly. Yet I showed 
a certain amount of strength that day — yes, even 
on that day which has humiliated and saddened the 
rest of my life. Neither my face nor my voice 
betrayed me when in the palms of Dorothy Elbourn 
I was again confronted with those same signs. She 
was all for knowing the future, poor child ! I 
believe I told her all manner of things that were to 
be. And she had no future — none, none in this 
world — except 

4 And then, while I talked, there came to me 
suddenly a suspicion. I wondered it hadn't come 
before. You guess what it was ? It made me feel 
very cold and strange. I went on talking. But, 
also, I went on — quite separately — thinking. The 
suspicion wasn't a certainty. This mother and 
daughter were always together. What was to befall 
the one might anywhere — anywhere — befall the 
158 



A. V. LAIDER 

other. But a like fate, in an equally near future, 
was in store for that other lady. The coincidence 
was curious, very. Here we all were together — 
here, they and I — I who was narrowly to escape, so 
soon now, what they, so soon now, were to suffer. 
Oh, there was an inference to be drawn. Not a sure 
inference, I told myself. And always I was talking, 
talking, and the train was swinging and swaying 
noisily along — to what ? It was a fast train. Our 
carriage was near the engine. I was talking loudly. 
Full well I had known what I should see in the 
Colonel's hands. I told myself I had not known. I 
told myself that even now the thing I dreaded was 
not sure to be. Don't think I was dreading it for 
myself. I wasn't so " lamentable " as all that — 
now. It was only of them that I thought — only for 
them. I hurried over the Colonel's character and 
career ; I was perfunctory. It was Blake's hands 
that I wanted. They were the hands that mattered. 

If they had the marks Remember, Blake was 

to start for India in the coming week, his wife was 
to remain in England. They would be apart. 

Therefore 

4 And the marks were there. And I did nothing 
— nothing but hold forth on the subtleties of Blake's 
character. There was a thing for me to do. I 
wanted to do it. I wanted to spring to the window 
and pull the communication-cord. Quite a simple 
thing to do. Nothing easier than to stop a train. 
You just give a sharp pull, and the train slows 
159 



SEVEN MEN 

down, comes to a standstill. And the Guard 
appears at your window. You explain to the 
Guard. 

4 Nothing easier than to tell him there is going to 
be a collision. Nothing easier than to insist that 
you and your friends and every other passenger in 
the train must get out at once. . . There are easier 
things than this ? Things that need less courage 
than this ? Some of them I could have done, I 
daresay. This thing I was going to do. Oh, I 
was determined that I would do it — directly. 

4 1 had said all I had to say about Blake's hands. 
I had brought my entertainment to an end. I had 
been thanked and complimented all round. I was 
quite at liberty. I was going to do what I had to 
do. I was determined, yes. 

4 We were near the outskirts of London. The air 
was grey, thickening ; and Dorothy Elbourn had 
said, 44 Oh, this horrible old London ! I suppose 
there's the same old fog ! " And presently I heard 
her father saying something about 44 prevention " 
and 44 a short act of Parliament " and 4t anthracite." 
And I sat and listened and agreed and ' 

Laider closed his eyes. He passed his hand 
slowly through the air. 

4 1 had a racking headache. And when I said so, 
I was told not to talk. I was in bed, and the 
nurses were always telling me not to talk. I was in 
a hospital. I knew that. But I didn't know why 
I was there. One day I thought I should like to 
160 



A. V. LAIDER 

know why, and so I asked. I was feeling much 
better now. They told me, by degrees, that I had 
had concussion of the brain. I had been brought 
there unconscious, and had remained unconscious 
for forty-eight hours. I had been in an accident — 
a railway accident. This seemed to me odd. I had 
arrived quite safely at my uncle's place, and I had 
no memory of any journey since that. In cases of 
concussion, you know, it's not uncommon for the 
patient to forget all that happened just before the 
accident ; there may be a blank of several hours. 
So it was in my case. One day my uncle was 
allowed to come and see me. And somehow, 
suddenly, at sight of him, the blank was filled in. 
I remembered, in a flash, everything. I was quite 
calm, though. Or I made myself seem so, for I 
wanted to know how the collision had happened. 
My uncle told me that the engine-driver had failed 
to see a signal because of the fog, and our train 
had crashed into a goods-train. I didn't ask 
him about the people who were with me. You 
see, there was no need to ask. Very gently my 
uncle began to tell me, but — I had begun to talk 
strangely, I suppose. I remember the frightened 
look of my uncle's face, and the nurse scolding him 
in whispers. 

4 After that, all a blur. It seems that I became 
very ill indeed, wasn't expected to live. However, 
I live.' 

There was a long silence. Laider did not look at 
161 L 



SEVEN MEN 

me, nor I at him. The fire was burning low, and 
he watched it. 

At length he spoke. 4 You despise me. Naturally. 
I despise myself.' 

4 No, I don't despise you ; but ' 

4 You blame me.' I did not meet his gaze. ' You 
blame me,' he repeated. 

4 Yes.' 

4 And there, if I may say so, you are a little 
unjust. It isn't my fault that I was born weak.' 

4 But a man may conquer weakness.' 

4 Yes, if he is endowed with the strength for that.' 

His fatalism drew from me a gesture of disgust. 
4 Do you really mean,' I asked, 4 that because you 
didn't pull that cord, you couldn't have pulled it ? ' 

4 Yes.' 

4 And it's written in your hands that you 
couldn't ? ' 

He looked at the palms of his hands. 4 They are 
the hands of a very weak man,' he said. 

4 A man so weak that he cannot believe in the 
possibility of free will for himself or for any one ? ' 

4 They are the hands of an intelligent man, who 
can weigh evidence and see things as they are.' 

4 But answer me : Was it fore-ordained that you 
should not pull that cord ? ' 

4 It was fore-ordained.' 

4 And was it actually marked in your hands that 
you were not going to pull it ? ' 

4 Ah, well, you see, it is rather the things one is 
162 

/ 



A. V. LAIDER 

going to do that are actually marked. The things 
one isn't going to do, — the innumerable negative 
things, — how could one expect them to be marked ? ■ 

4 But the consequences of what one leaves undone 
may be positive ? ' 

4 Horribly positive,' he winced. ' My hand is the 
hand of a man who has suffered a great deal in 
later life.' 

4 And was it the hand of a man destined to suffer ? 

4 Oh, yes. I thought I told you that.' 

There was a pause. 

4 Well,' I said, with awkward sympathy, 4 1 
suppose all hands are the hands of people destined 
to suffer.' 

4 Not of people destined to suffer so much as J 
have suffered — as I still suffer.' 

The insistence of his self-pity chilled me, and I 
harked back to a question he had not straightly 
answered. 4 Tell me : Was it marked in your hands 
that you were not going to pull that cord ? ' 

Again he looked at his hands, and then, having 
pressed them for a moment to his face, 4 It was 
marked very clearly,' he answered, 4 in their hands.' 

Two or three days after this colloquy there had 
occurred to me in London an idea — an ingenious 
and comfortable doubt. How was Laider to be 
sure that his brain, recovering from concussion, had 
remembered what happened in the course of that 
railway-journey ? How was he to know that his 
163 



SEVEN MEN 

brain hadn't simply, in its abeyance, invented all this 
for him ? It might be that he had never seen those 
signs in those hands. Assuredly, here was a bright 
loop-hole. I had forthwith written to Laider, 
pointing it out. 

This was the letter which now, at my second visit, 
I had found miserably pent on the letter-board. I 
remembered my promise to rescue it. I arose from 
the retaining fireside, stretched my arms, yawned, 
and went forth to fulfil my Christian purpose. 
There was no one in the hall. The ' shower ' had 
at length ceased. The sun had positively come 
out, and the front door had been thrown open in 
its honour. Everything along the sea-front was 
beautifully gleaming, drying, shimmering. But I 
was not to be diverted from my errand. I 
went to the letter-board. And — my letter was 
not there ! Resourceful and plucky little thing 
— it had escaped ! I did hope it would not be 
captured and brought back. Perhaps the alarm 
had already been raised by the tolling of that great 
bell which warns the inhabitants for miles around 
that a letter has broken loose from the letter-board. 
I had a vision of my envelope skimming wildly 
along the coast-line, pursued by the old but active 
waiter and a breathless pack of local worthies. I 
saw it out-distancing them all, dodging past coast- 
guards, doubling on its tracks, leaping breakwaters, 
unluckily injuring itself, losing speed, and at last, in 
a splendour of desperation, taking to the open sea. 
164 



A. V. LAIDER 

But suddenly I had another idea. Perhaps Laider 
had returned ? 

He had. I espied afar on the sands a form that 
was recognisably, by the listless droop of it, his. I 
was glad and sorry — rather glad, because he com- 
pleted the scene of last year ; and very sorry, 
because this time we should be at each other's 
mercy : no restful silence and liberty, for either of 
us, this time. Perhaps he had been told I was here, 
and had gone out to avoid me while he yet could. 
Oh weak, weak ! Why palter ? I put on my hat 
and coat, and marched out to meet him. 

' Influenza, of course ? ' we asked simultaneously. 

There is a limit to the time which one man may 
spend in talking to another about his own influenza ; 
and presently, as we paced the sands, I felt that 
Laider had passed this limit. I wondered that he 
didn't break off and thank me now for my letter. 
He must have read it. He ought to have thanked 
me for it at once. It was a very good letter, a 
remarkable letter. But surely he wasn't waiting to 
answer it by post ? His silence about it gave me 
the absurd sense of having taken a liberty, confound 
him ! He was evidently ill at ease while he talked. 
But it wasn't for me to help him out of his difficulty, 
whatever that might be. It was for him to remove 
the strain imposed on myself. 

Abruptly, after a long pause, he did now manage 
to say, ' It was — very good of you to — to write me 
that letter.' He told me he had only just got it, 
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SEVEN MEN 

and he drifted away into otiose explanations of this 
fact. I thought he might at least say it was a 
remarkable letter ; and you can imagine my 
annoyance when he said, after another interval, ' I 
was very much touched indeed.' I had wished to 
be convincing, not touching. I can't bear to be 
called touching. 

4 Don't you,' I asked, ' think it is quite possible 
that your brain invented all those memories of what 
— what happened before that accident ? ' 

He drew a sharp sigh. 4 You make me feel very 
guilty.' 

4 That's exactly what I tried to make you not 
feel ! ' 

4 1 know, yes. That's why I feel so guilty.' 

We had paused in our walk. He stood nervously 
prodding the hard wet sand with his walking-stick. 
4 In a way,' he said, * your theory was quite right. 
But — it didn't go far enough. It's not only possible, 
it's a fact, that I didn't see those signs in those 
hands. I never examined those hands. They 
weren't there. I wasn't there. I haven't an uncle 
in Hampshire, even. I never had.' 

I, too, prodded the sand. * Well,' I said at 
length, 4 1 do feel rather a fool.' 

4 I've no right even to beg your pardon, but ' 

4 Oh, I'm not vexed. Only — I rather wish you 
hadn't told me this.' 

4 I wish I hadn't had to. It was your kindness, 
you see, that forced me. By trying to take an 
166 



A. V. LAIDER 

imaginary load off my conscience, you laid a very 
real one on it.' 

' I'm sorry. But you, of your own free will, you 
know, exposed your conscience to me last year. I 
don't yet quite understand why you did that.' 

4 No, of course not. I don't deserve that you 
should. But I think you will. May I explain ? 
I'm afraid I've talked a great deal already about 
my influenza, and I shan't be able to keep it out of 
my explanation. Well, my weakest point — I told 
you this last year, but it happens to be perfectly 
true that my weakest point — is my will. Influenza, 
as you know, fastens unerringly on one's weakest 
point. It doesn't attempt to undermine my imagi- 
nation. That would be a forlorn hope. I have, 
alas ! a very strong imagination. At ordinary 
times my imagination allows itself to be governed 
by my will. My will keeps it in check by constant 
nagging. But when my will isn't strong enough 
even to nag, then my imagination stampedes. I 
become even as a little child. I tell myself the most 
preposterous fables, and — the trouble is — I can't 
help telling them to my friends. Until I've 
thoroughly shaken off influenza, I'm not fit company 
for any one. I perfectly realise this, and I have the 
good sense to go right away till I'm quite well 
again. I come here usually. It seems absurd, but 
I must confess I was sorry last year when we fell 
into conversation. I knew I should very soon be 
letting myself go, or rather, very soon be swept 
167 



SEVEN MEN 

away. Perhaps I ought to have warned you ; but 
— I'm a rather shy man. And then you mentioned 
the subject of palmistry. You said you believed in 
it. I wondered at that. I had once read Des- 
barolles' book about it, but I am bound to say I 
thought the whole thing very great nonsense 
indeed.' 

* Then,' I gasped, ' it isn't even true that you 
believe in palmistry ? ■ 

4 Oh, no. But I wasn't able to tell you that. 
You had begun by saying that you believed in 
palmistry, and then you proceeded to scoff at it. 
While you scoffed I saw myself as a man with a 
terribly good reason for not scoffing ; and in a flash 
I saw the terribly good reason ; I had the whole 
story — at least I had the broad outlines of it — clear 
before me.' 

' You hadn't ever thought of it before ? ' He 
shook his head. My eyes beamed. ' The whole 
thing was a sheer improvisation ? ' 

4 Yes,' said Laider, humbly, 4 1 am as bad as all 
that. I don't say that all the details of the story 
I told you that evening were filled in at the very 
instant of its conception. I was filling them in 
while we talked about palmistry in general, and 
while I was waiting for the moment when the story 
would come in most effectively. And I've no doubt 
I added some extra touches in the course of the 
actual telling. Don't imagine that I took the 
slightest pleasure in deceiving you. It's only my 
168 



A. V. LAIDER 

will, not my conscience, that is weakened after 
influenza. I simply can't help telling what I've 
made up, and telling it to the best of my ability. 
But I'm thoroughly ashamed all the time.' 

4 Not of your ability, surely ? ' 

' Yes, of that, too,' he said with his sad smile. ' I 
always feel that I'm not doing justice to my idea.' 

1 You are too stern a critic, believe me.' 

1 It is very kind of you to say that. You are 
very kind altogether. Had I known that you were 
so essentially a man of the world — in the best sense 
of that term — I shouldn't have so much dreaded 
seeing you just now and having to confess to you. 
But I'm not going to take advantage of your 
urbanity and your easy-going ways. I hope that 
some day we may meet somewhere when I haven't 
had influenza and am a not wholly undesirable 
acquaintance. As it is, I refuse to let you associate 
with me. I am an older man than you, and so I 
may without impertinence warn you against having 
anything to do with me.' 

I deprecated this advice, of course ; but, for a 
man of weakened will, he showed great firmness. 
4 You,' he said, ' in your heart of hearts don't want 
to have to walk and talk continually with a person 
who might at any moment try to bamboozle you 
with some ridiculous tale. And I, for my part, 
don't want to degrade myself by trying to bam- 
boozle any one — especially one whom I have taught 
to see through me. Let the two talks we have had 
169 



SEVEN MEN 

be as though they had not been. Let us bow to 
each other, as last year, but let that be all. Let us 
follow in all things the precedent of last year.' 

With a smile that was almost gay he turned on 
his heel, and moved away with a step that was 
almost brisk. I was a little disconcerted. But I 
was also more than a little glad. The restfulness of 
silence, the charm of liberty — these things were not, 
after all, forfeit. My heart thanked Laider for that ; 
and throughout the week I loyally seconded him in 
the system he had laid down for us. All was as it 
had been last year. We did not smile to each 
other, we merely bowed, when we entered or left 
the dining-room or smoking-room, and when we 
met on the widespread sands or in that shop which 
had a small and faded, but circulating, library. 

Once or twice in the course of the week it did 
occur to me that perhaps Laider had told the 
simple truth at our first interview and an ingenious 
lie at our second. I frowned at this possibility. 
The idea of any one wishing to be quit of me was 
most distasteful. However, I was to find reassur- 
ance. On the last evening of my stay, I suggested, 
in the small smoking-room, that he and I should, as 
sticklers for precedent, converse. We did so, very 
pleasantly. And after a while I happened to say 
that I had seen this afternoon a great number of 
sea-gulls flying close to the shore. 

1 Sea-gulls ? ' said Laider, turning in his chair. 

' Yes. And I don't think I had ever realised how 
170 



A. V. LAIDER 

extraordinarily beautiful they are when their wings 
catch the light.' 

* Beautiful ? ' Laider threw a quick glance at me 
and away from me. ' You think them beautiful ? ' 

' Surely.' 

4 Well, perhaps they are, yes ; I suppose they are. 
But — I don't like seeing them. They always 
remind me of something — rather an awful thing — 
that once happened to me.' .... 

It was a very awful thing indeed. 



171 



SAVONAROLA' BROWN 



SAVONAROLA' BROWN 



I LIKE to remember that I was the first to call 
him so, for, though he always deprecated the 
nickname, in his heart he was pleased by it, 
I know, and encouraged to go on. 

Quite apart from its significance, he had reason 
to welcome it. He had been unfortunate at the 
font. His parents, at the time of his birth, lived in 
Ladbroke Crescent, W. They must have been an 
extraordinarily unimaginative couple, for they 
could think of no better name for their child than 
Ladbroke. This was all very well for him till he 
went to school. But you can fancy the indignation 
and delight of us boys at finding among us a new- 
comer who, on his own confession, had been named 
after a Crescent. I don't know how it is nowadays, 
but thirty-five years ago, certainly, schoolboys re- 
garded the possession of any Christian name as rather 
unmanly. As we all had these encumbrances, we 
had to wreak our scorn on any one who was cumbered 
in a queer fashion. I myself, bearer of a Christian 
name adjudged eccentric though brief, had had 
much to put up with in my first term. Brown's 
175 



SEVEN MEN 

arrival, therefore, at the beginning of my second 
term, was a good thing for me, and I am afraid I 
was very prominent among his persecutors. Tra- 
falgar Brown, Tottenham Court Brown, Bond Brown 
— what names did we little brutes not cull for him 
from the London Directory ? Except how miser- 
able we made his life, I do not remember much 
about him as he was at that time, and the only 
important part of the little else that I do recall is 
that already he showed a strong sense for literature. 
For the majority of us Carthusians, literature was 
bounded on the north by Whyte Melville, on the 
south by Hawley Smart, on the east by the former, 
and on the west by the latter. Little Brown used 
to read Harrison Ainsworth, Wilkie Collins, and 
other writers whom we, had we assayed them, 
would have dismissed as 4 deep.' It has been said 
by Mr. Arthur Symons that ' all art is a mode of 
escape.' The art of letters did not, however, enable 
Brown to escape so far from us as he would have 
wished. In my third term he did not reappear 
among us. His parents had in some sort atoned. 
Unimaginative though they were, it seems they 
could understand a tale of woe laid before them 
circumstantially, and had engaged a private tutor 
for their boy. Fifteen years elapsed before I saw 
him again. 

This was at the second night of some play. I was 
dramatic critic for the Saturday Review, and, weary 
of meeting the same lot of people over and over 
176 



4 SAVONAROLA ' BROWN 

again at first nights, had recently sent a circular to 
the managers asking that I might have seats for 
second nights instead. I found that there existed 
as distinct and invariable a lot of second-nighters 
as of first-nighters. The second-nighters were less 
4 showy ' ; but then, they came rather to see than 
to be seen, and there was an air, that I liked, of 
earnestness and hopefulness about them. I used to 
write a great deal about the future of the British 
drama, and they, for their part, used to think and 
talk a great deal about it. People who care about 
books and pictures find much to interest and please 
them in the present. It is only the students of the 
theatre who always fall back, or rather forward, on 
the future. Though second-nighters do come to see, 
they remain rather to hope and pray. I should 
have known anywhere, by the visionary look in his 
eyes, that Brown was a confirmed second-nighter. 

What surprises me is that I knew he was Brown. 
It is true that he had not grown much in those 
fifteen years : his brow was still disproportionate to 
his body, and he looked young to have become 
4 confirmed ' in any habit. But it is also true that 
not once in the past ten years, at any rate, had he 
flitted through my mind and poised on my 
conscience. 

I hope that I and those other boys had long ago 

ceased from recurring to him in nightmares. Cordial 

though the hand was that I offered him, and highly 

civilised my whole demeanour, he seemed afraid 

177 M 



SEVEN MEN 

that at any moment I might begin to dance around 
him, shooting out my lips at him and calling him 
Seven-Sisters Brown or something of that kind. It 
was only after constant meetings at second nights, 
and innumerable entr'acte talks about the future of 
the drama, that he began to trust me. In course of 
time we formed the habit of walking home together 
as far as Cumberland Place, at which point our 
ways diverged. I gathered that he was still living 
with his parents, but he did not tell me where, for 
they had not, as I learned by reference to the Red 
Book, moved from Ladbroke Crescent. 

I found his company restful rather than inspiring. 
His days were spent in clerkship at one of the 
smaller Government Offices, his evenings — except 
when there was a second night — in reading and 
writing. He did not seem to know much, or to 
wish to know more, about life. Books and plays, 
first editions and second nights, were what he cared 
for. On matters of religion and ethics he was as 
little keen as he seemed to be on human character 
in the raw ; so that (though I had already suspected 
him of writing, or meaning to write, a play) my 
eyebrows did rise when he told me he meant to 
write a play about Savonarola. 

He made me understand, however, that it was 
rather the name than the man that had first 
attracted him. He said that the name was in itself 
a great incentive to blank-verse. He uttered it to 
me slowly, in a voice so much deeper than his usual 
178 



' SAVONAROLA ' BROWN 

voice, that I nearly laughed. For the actual bearer 
of the name he had no hero-worship, and said it 
was by a mere accident that he had chosen him as 
central figure. He had thought of writing a tragedy 
about Sardanapalus ; but the volume of the 
" Encyclopaedia Britannica " in which he was going 
to look up the main facts about Sardanapalus 
happened to open at Savonarola. Hence a sudden 
and complete peripety in the student's mind. He 
told me he had read the Encyclopaedia's article 
carefully, and had dipped into one or two of the 
books there mentioned as authorities. He seemed 
almost to wish he hadn't. ' Facts get in one's way 
so,' he complained. 4 History is one thing, drama 
is another. Aristotle said drama was more philo- 
sophic than history because it showed us what men 
would do, not just what they did. I think that's so 
true, don't you ? I want to show what Savonarola 
would have done if — ' He paused. 

' If what ? ' 

1 Well, that's just the point. I haven't settled 
that yet. When I've thought of a plot, I shall go 
straight ahead.' 

I said I supposed he intended his tragedy rather for 
the study than for the stage. This seemed to hurt him. 
I told him that what I meant was that managers 
always shied at anything without ' a strong feminine 
interest.' This seemed to worry him. I advised 
him not to think about managers. He promised 
that he would think only about Savonarola. 
179 



SEVEN MEN 

I know now that this promise was not exactly- 
kept by him ; and he may have felt slightly awkward 
when, some weeks later, he told me he had begun 
the play. ' I've hit on an initial idea,' he said, 4 and 
that's enough to start with. I gave up my notion 
of inventing a plot in advance. I thought it would 
be a mistake. I don't want puppets on wires. I 
want Savonarola to work out his destiny in his own 
way. Now that I have the initial idea, what I've 
got to do is to make Savonarola live. I hope I shall 
be able to do this. Once he's alive, I shan't interfere 
with him. I shall just watch him. Won't it be 
interesting ? He isn't alive yet. But there's plenty 
of time. You see, he doesn't come on at the rise 
of the curtain. A Friar and a Sacristan come on 
and talk about him. By the time they've finished, 
perhaps he'll be alive. But they won't have 
finished yet. Not that they're going to say very 
much. But I write slowly.' 

I remember the mild thrill I had when, one 
evening, he took me aside and said in an undertone, 
' Savonarola has come on. Alive ! ' For me the 
MS. hereinafter printed has an interest that for you 
it cannot have, so a-bristle am I with memories of 
the meetings I had with its author throughout the 
nine years he took over it. He never saw me 
without reporting progress, or lack of progress. Just 
what was going on, or standing still, he did not 
divulge. After the entry of Savonarola, he never 
told me what characters were appearing. ' All sorts 
180 



'SAVONAROLA' BROWN 

of people appear,' he would say rather helplessly. 
4 They insist. I can't prevent them.' I used to say 
it must be great fun to be a creative artist ; but at 
this he always shook his head : 4 I don't create. 
They do. Savonarola especially, of course. I just 
look on and record. I never know what's going to 
happen next.' He had the advantage of me in 
knowing at any rate what had happened last. But 
whenever I pled for a glimpse he would again 
shake his head : 

4 The thing must be judged as a whole. Wait 
till I've come to the end of the Fifth Act.' 

So impatient did I become that, as the years went 
by, I used rather to resent his presence at second 
nights. I felt he ought to be at his desk. His, I 
used to tell him, was the only drama whose future 
ought to concern him now. And in point of fact he 
had, I think, lost the true spirit of the second- 
nighter, and came rather to be seen than to see. He 
liked the knowledge that here and there in the 
auditorium, when he entered it, some one would be 
saying 4 Who is that ? ' and receiving the answer 
4 Oh, don't you know? That's "Savonarola" 
Brown.' This sort of thing, however, did not make 
him cease to be the modest, unaffected fellow I had 
known. He always listened to the advice I used to 
offer him, though inwardly he must have chafed at 
it. Myself a fidgety and uninspired person, unable 
to begin a piece of writing before I know just how 
it shall end, I had always been afraid that sooner or 
181 



SEVEN MEN 

later Brown would take some turning that led 
nowhither — would lose himself and come to grief. 
This fear crept into my gladness when, one evening 
in the spring of 1909, he told me he had finished the 
Fourth Act. Would he win out safely through the 
Fifth ? 

He himself was looking rather glum ; and, as 
we walked away from the theatre, I said to him, 4 1 
suppose you feel rather like Thackeray when he'd 
" killed the Colonel " : you've got to kill the 
Monk.' 

1 Not quite that,' he answered. * But of course 
he'll die very soon now. A couple of years or so. 
And it does seem rather sad. It's not merely that 
he's so full of life. He has been becoming much 
more human lately. At first I only respected him. 
Now I have a real affection for him.' 

This was an interesting glimpse at last, but I 
turned from it to my besetting fear. 

1 Haven't you,' I asked, ' any notion of how he 
is to die ? ' 

Brown shook his head. 

4 But in a tragedy,' I insisted, * the catas- 
trophe must be led up to, step by step. My dear 
Brown, the end of the hero must be logical and 
rational.' 

4 1 don't see that,' he said, as we crossed Piccadilly 
Circus. 4 In actual life it isn't so. What is there to 
prevent a motor-omnibus from knocking me over 
and killing me at this moment ? ' 
182 



'SAVONAROLA' BROWN 

At that moment, by what has always seemed 
to me the strangest of coincidences, and just the 
sort of thing that playwrights ought to avoid, a 
motor-omnibus knocked Brown over and killed 
him. 

He had, as I afterwards learned, made a will 
in which he appointed me his literary executor. 
Thus passed into my hands the unfinished play 
by whose name he had become known to so many 
people. 

I hate to say that I was disappointed in it, but I 
had better confess quite frankly that, on the whole, 
I was. Had Brown written it quickly and read it 
to me soon after our first talk about it, it might in 
some ways have exceeded my hopes. But he had 
become for me, by reason of that quiet and unhasting 
devotion to his work while the years came and went, 
a sort of hero ; and the very mystery involving just 
what he was about had addicted me to those ideas 
of magnificence which the unknown is said always 
to foster. 

Even so, however, I am not blind to the great 
merits of the play as it stands. It is well that the 
writer of poetic drama should be a dramatist and a 
poet. Here is a play that abounds in striking 
situations, and I have searched it vainly for one 
line that does not scan. What I nowhere feel is 
that I have not elsewhere been thrilled or lulled by 
the same kind of thing. I do not go so far as to say 
183 



SEVEN MEN 

that Brown inherited his parents' deplorable lack of 
imagination. But I do wish he had been less 
sensitive than he was to impressions, or else had 
seen and read fewer poetic dramas ancient and 
modern. Remembering that visionary look in his 
eyes, remembering that he was as displeased as I 
by the work of all living playwrights, and as dis- 
satisfied with the great efforts of the Elizabethans, 
I wonder that he was not more immune from in- 
fluences. 

Also, I cannot but wish still that he had faltered 
in his decision to make no scenario. There is much 
to be said for the theory that a dramatist should 
first vitalise his characters and then leave them un- 
fettered ; but I do feel that Brown's misused the 
confidence he reposed in them. The labour of so 
many years has somewhat the air of being a mere 
improvisation. Savonarola himself, after the First 
Act or so, strikes me as utterly inconsistent. It 
may be that he is just complex, like Hamlet. He 
does in the Fourth Act show traces of that Prince. 
I suppose this is why he struck Brown as having 
become ' more human.' To me he seems merely a 
poorer creature. 

But enough of these reservations. In my anxiety 
for poor Brown's sake that you should not be dis- 
appointed, perhaps I have been carrying tactfulness 
too far and prejudicing you against that for which 
I specially want your favour. Here, without more 
ado, is 

184 



SAVONAROLA 

A Tragedy 
by 

L. BROWN 

ACT I 

Scene : A Room in the Monastery of San Marco, 
Florence. 

Time : 1490, a.d. A summer morning. 

Enter the Sacristan and a Friar. 

Sacr. 

Savonarola looks more grim to-day 

Than ever. Should I speak my mind, I'd say 

That he was fashioning some new great scourge 

To flay the backs of men. 

Fri. 

'Tis even so. 
Brother Filippo saw him stand last night 
In solitary vigil till the dawn 
Lept o'er the Arno, and his face was such 
As men may wear in Purgatory — nay, 
E'en in the inmost core of Hell's own fires. 

Sacr. 

I often wonder if some woman's face, 
Seen at some rout in his old worldling days, 
185 



SEVEN MEN 

Haunts him e'en now, e'en here, and urges him 
To fierier fury 'gainst the Florentines. 

Fri. 

Savonarola love-sick ! Ha, ha, ha ! 

Love-sick ? He, love-sick ? Tis a goodly jest ! 

The confirm'd misogyn a ladies' man ! 

Thou must have eaten of some strange red herb 

That takes the reason captive. I will swear 

Savonarola never yet hath seen 

A woman but he spurn'd her. Hist ! He comes. 

[Enter Savonarola, rapt in thought.] 

Give thee good morrow, Brother. 

Sacr. 

And therewith 
A multitude of morrows equal-good 
Till thou, by Heaven's grace, hast wrought the work 
Nearest thine heart. 

Sav. 

I thank thee, Brother, yet 
I thank thee not, for that my thankfulness 
(An such there be) pives thanks to Heaven alone. 

Fri. [To Sacr.] 

'Tis a right answer he hath given thee. 
Had Sav'narola spoken less than thus, 
Methinks me, the less Sav'narola he. 
186 



'SAVONAROLA' 

As when the snow lies on yon Apennines, 

White as the hem of Mary Mother's robe, 

And insusceptible to the sun's rays, 

Being harder to the touch than temper'd steel, 

E'en so this great gaunt monk white-visaged 

Upstands to Heaven and to Heav'n devotes 

The scarped thoughts that crown the upper slopes 

Of his abrupt and austeve nature. 

Sacr. 

Aye. 

[Enter Lucrezia Borgia, St. Francis of Assisi, 
and Leonardo da Vinci. Luc. is thickly veiled.] 

St. Fran. 

This is the place. 

Luc. [Pointing at Sav.] 

And this the man ! [Aside.] And I — 
By the hot blood that courses i' my veins 
I swear it ineluctably — the woman ! 

Sav. 

Who is this wanton ? 

[Luc. throws back her hood, revealing her face. 
Sav. starts back, gazing at her.] 

St. Fran. 

Hush, Sir ! 'Tis my little sister 
The poisoner, right well-belov'd by all 

187 \ 



SEVEN MEN 

Whom she as yet hath spared. Hither she came 
Mounted upon another little sister of mine — 
A mare, caparison'd in goodly wise. 
She — I refer now to Lucrezia — 
Desireth to have word of thee anent 
Some matter that befrets her. 

Sav. [To Luc] 

Hence ! Begone ! 
Savonarola will not tempted be 
By face of woman e'en tho' 't be, tho' 'tis, 
Surpassing fair. All hope abandon therefore. 
I charge thee : Vade retro, Satanas. 

Leonardo 

Sirrah, thou speakst in haste, as is the way 

Of monkish men. The beauty of Lucrezia 

Commends, not discommends, her to the eyes 

Of keener thinkers than I take thee for. 

I am an artist and an engineer, 

Giv'n o'er to subtile dreams of what shall be 

On this our planet. I foresee a day 

When men shall skim the earth i' certain chairs 

Not drawn by horses but sped on by oil 

Or other matter, and shall thread the sky 

Birdlike. 

Luc. 

It may be as thou sayest, friend, 
Or may be not. [To Sav.] As touching this our errand, 
188 



'SAVONAROLA' 

I crave of thee, Sir Monk, an audience 
Instanter. 



Fri. 

Lo ! Here Alighieri comes. 
I had methought me he was still at Parma. 

[Enter Dante.] 

St. Fran. [To Dan.] 

How fares my little sister Beatrice ? 

Dan. 

She died, alack, last sennight. 

St. Fran. 

Did she so ? 
If the condolences of men avail 
Thee aught, take mine. 

Dan. 

They are of no avail. 

Sav. [To Luc] 

I do refuse thee audience. 

Luc. 

Then why 
Didst thou not say so promptly when I ask'd it ? 
189 



SEVEN MEN 

Sav. 

Full well thou knowst that I was interrupted 

By Alighieri's entry. 

[Noise without. Enter Guelfs and Ghibellines 
fighting.] 

What is this ? 

Luc. 

I did not think that in this cloister'd spot 

There would be so much doing. I had look'd 

To find Savonarola all alone 

And tempt him in his uneventful cell. 

Instead o' which — Spurn'd am I ? I am I. 

There was a time, Sir, look to 't ! O damnation ! 

What is 't ? Anon then ! These my toys, my 
gauds, 

That in the cradle — aye, 't my mother's breast — 

I puled and lisped at, — 'Tis impossible, 

Tho', faith, 'tis not so, forasmuch as 'tis. 

And I a daughter of the Borgias ! — 

Or so they told me. Liars ! Flatterers ! 

Currying lick-spoons ! Where's the Hell of 't then ? 

'Tis time that I were going. Farewell, Monk, 

But I'll avenge me ere the sun has sunk. 

[Exeunt Luc, St. Fran., and Leonardo, fol- 
lowed by Dan. Sav., having watched Luc. out of 
sight, sinks to his knees, sobbing. Fri. and Sacr. 
watch him in amazement. Guelfs and Ghibellines 
continue fighting as the Curtain falls.] 



190 



'SAVONAROLA 



ACT II 

Time : Afternoon of same day. 

Scene : Lucrezia's Laboratory. Retorts, test-tubes, 
etc. On small Renaissance table, up c, if a great 
poison-bowl, the contents of which are being stirred by 
the First Apprentice. The Second Apprentice 
stands by, watching him. 

Second App. 

For whom is the brew destin'd ? 

First App. 

I know not. 
Lady Lucrezia did but lay on me 
Injunctions as regards the making of 't, 
The which I have obey'd. It is compounded 
Of a malignant and a deadly weed 
Found not save in the Gulf of Spezia, 
And one small phial of 't, I am advis'd, 
Were more than 'nough to slay a regiment 
Of Messer Malatesta's condottieri 
In all their armour. 

Second App. 

I can well believe it. 
Mark how the purple bubbles froth upon 
The evil surface of its nether slime ! 
191 



SEVEN MEN 

[Enter Luc] 

Luc. [To First App.] 
Is 't done, Sir Sluggard ? 

First App. 

Madam, to a turn. 
Luc. 

Had it not been so, I with mine own hand 
WouJd have outpour'd it down thy gullet, knave. 
See, here's a ring of cunningly-wrought gold 
That I, on a dark night, did purchase from 
A goldsmith on the Ponte Vecchio. 
Small was his shop, and hoar of visage he. 
I did bemark that from the ceiling's beams 
Spiders had spun their webs for many a year, 
The which hung erst like swathes of gossamer 
Seen in the shadows of a fairy glade, 
But now most woefully were weighted o'er 
With gather'd dust. Look well now at the ring ! 
Touch'd here, behold, it opes a cavity 
Capacious of three drops of yon fell stuff. 
Dost heed ? Whoso then puts it on his finger 
Dies, and his soul is from his body rapt 
To Hell or Heaven as the case may be. 
Take thou this toy and pour the three drops in. 

[Hands ring to First App. and comes down c] 

So, Sav'narola, thou shalt learn that I 
Utter no threats but I do make them good. 
192 



'SAVONAROLA' 

Ere this day's sun hath wester'd from the view 

Thou art to preach from out the Loggia 

Dei Lanzi to the cits in the Piazza. 

I, thy Lucrezia, will be upon the steps 

To offer thee with phrases seeming-fair 

That which shall seal thine eloquence for ever. 

O mighty lips that held the world in spell 

But would not meet these little lips of mine 

In the sweet way that lovers use — O thin, 

Cold, tight-drawn, bloodless lips, which natheless I 

Deem of all lips the most magnifical 

In this our city 

[Enter the Borgias' Fool.] 

Well, Fool, what's thy latest ? 
Fool 

Aristotle's or Zeno's, Lady — 'tis neither latest nor 
last. For, marry, if the cobbler stuck to his last, 
then were his latest his last in rebus ambulantibus. 
Argal, I stick at nothing but cobble-stones, which, 
by the same token, are stuck to the road by men's 
fingers. 

Luc. 

How many crows may nest in a grocer's jerkin ? 

Fool 

A full dozen at cock-crow, and something less under 
the dog-star, by reason of the dew, which lies 
heavy on men taken by the scurvy. 

193 N 



SEVEN MEN 

Luc. [To First App.] 
Methinks the Fool is a fool. 

Fool 

And therefore, by auricular deduction, am I own 

twin to the Lady Lucrezia ! 

[Sings.] 

When pears hang green on the garden wall 

With a nid, and a nod, and a niddy-niddy-o, 
Then prank you, lads and lasses all, 

With a yea and a nay and a niddy-o. 

But when the thrush flies out o' the frost 

With a nid, [etc.] 
'Tis time for loons to count the cost, 
With a yea [etc.] 

[Enter the Porter.] 

Porter 

my dear Mistress, there is one below 
Demanding to have instant word of thee. 

1 told him that your Ladyship was not 

At home. Vain perjury ! He would not take 
Nay for an answer. 

Luc. 

Ah ? What manner of man 
Is he? 

194 



'SAVONAROLA' 

Porter 

A personage the like of whom 
Is wholly unfamiliar to my gaze. 
Cowl'd is he, but I saw his great eyes glare 
From their deep sockets in such wise as leopards 
Glare from their caverns, crouching ere they spring 
On their reluctant prey. 

Luc. 

And what name gave he ? 

Porter [After a pause.] 
Something-arola. 

Luc. 

Savon- ? [Porter nods.] Show him up. 

[Exit Porter.] 
Fool 

If he be right astronomically, Mistress, then is he 
the greater dunce in respect of true learning, the 
which goes by the globe. Argal, 'twere better he 
widened his wind-pipe. 

[Sings.] 

Fly home, sweet self, 

Nothing's for weeping, 

Hemp was not made 

For lovers' keeping, 

Lovers' keeping, 

Cheerly, cheerly, fly away. 

195 



SEVEN MEN 

Hew no more wood 
While ash is glowing, 
The longest grass 
Is lovers' mowing, 
Lovers' mowing, 
Cheerly, [etc.] 

[Re-enter Porter, followed by Sav. Exeunt 
Porter, Fool, and First and Second Apps.] 

Sav. 

I am no more a monk, I am a man 

O' the world. 

[Throws off cowl and frock, and stands forth in 
the costume of a Renaissance nobleman. Lu- 
crezia looks him up and down.] 

Lua 

Thou cutst a sorry figure. 

Sav. 

That 
Is neither here nor there. I love you, Madam. 

Luc. 

And this, methinks, is neither there nor here, 
For that my love of thee hath vanished, 
Seeing thee thus beprankt. Go pad thy calves ! 
Thus mightst thou, just conceivably, with luck, 
Capture the fancy of some serving-wench. 
196 



'SAVONAROLA' 

Sat. 

And this is all thou hast to say to me ? 

Luc. 
It is. 

Sav. 

I am dismiss'd ? 

Luc. 

Thou art. 

Sav. 

Tis well. 
[Resumes frock and ccwl.] 
Savonarola is himself once more. 

Luc. 

And all my love for him returns to mc 

A thousandfold ! 

SaV; 

Too late ! My pride of manhood 
Is wounded irremediably. I'll 
To the Piazza, where my flock awaits me. 
Thus do we see that men make great mistakes 
But may amend them when the conscience wakes. 

[Exit] 

Luc. 

I'm half avenged now, but only half : 
197 



SEVEN MEN 

'Tis with the ring I'll have the final laugh ! 

Tho' love be sweet, revenge is sweeter far. 

To the Piazza ! Ha, ha, ha, ha, har ! 

[Seizes ring, and exit. Through open door are 
heard, as the Curtain falls, sounds of a terrific 
hubbub in the Piazza.] 



ACT III 

Scene : The Piazza. 

Time : A few minutes anterior to close of preceding 
Act. 

The Piazza is filled from end to end with a vast 
seething crowd that is drawn entirely from the lower 
orders. There is a sprinkling of wild-eyed and 
dishevelled women in it. The men are lantern-jawed, 
with several days' growth of beard. Most of them 
carry rude weapons — staves, bill-hooks, crow-bars, and 
the like — and are in as excited a condition as the 
women. Some of them are bare-headed, others affect 
a kind of Phrygian cap. Cobblers predominate. 

Enter Lorenzo de Medici and Cosimo de Medici. 
They wear cloaks of scarlet brocade, and, to avoid 
notice, hold masks to their faces. 

Cos. 

What purpose doth the foul and greasy plebs 

Ensue to-day here ? 

198 



'SAVONAROLA' 

Lor. 

I nor know nor care. 
Cos. 

How thrall'd thou art to the philosophy 
Of Epicurus ! Naught that's human I 
Deem alien from myself. [To a Cobbler.] Make 

answer, fellow ! 
What empty hope hath drawn thee by. a thread 
Forth from the o&scene hovel where thou starvest ? 

Cob. 

No empty hope, your Honour, but the full 

Assurance that to-day, as yesterday, 

Savonarola will let loose his thunder 

Against the vices of the idle rich 

And from the brimming cornucopia 

Of his immense vocabulary pour 

Scorn on the lamentable heresies 

Of the New Learning and on all the art 

Later than Giotto. 

Cos. 

Mark how absolute 
The knave is ! 

Lor. 

Then are parrots rational 
When they regurgitate the thing they hear ! 
This fool is but an unit of the crowd, 
And crowds are senseless as the vasty deep 
199 



SEVEN MEN 

That sinks or surges as the moon dictates. 

I know these crowds, and know that any man 

That hath a glib tongue and a rolling eye 

Can as he willeth with them. 

[Removes his mask and mounts steps of Loggia.] 

Citizens ! 
[Prolonged yells and groans from the crowd.] 

Yes, I am he, I am that same Lorenzo 

Whom you have nicknamed the Magnificent. 

[Further terrific yells, shakings of fists, brandish- 
ings of bill-hooks, insistent cries of i Death to 
Lorenzo!' ' Down with the Magnificent!' Cob- 
blers on fringe of crowd, down c, exhibit especially 
all the symptoms of epilepsy, whooping-cough, 
and other ailments.] 

You love not me. 

[The crowd makes an ugly rush. Lor. appears 
likely to be dragged down and torn limb from limb, 
but raises one hand in nick of time, and continues :] 

Yet I deserve your love. 
[The yells are now variegated with dubious 
murmurs. A cobbler down c. thrusts his face 
feverishly in the face of another and repeats, in a 
hoarse interrogative whisper, * Deserves our love ? '] 

Not for the sundry boons I have bestow'd 

And benefactions I have lavished 

Upon Firenze, City of the Flowers, 

But for the love that in this rugged breast 

I bear you. 

[The yells have now died away, and there is a 
200 



'SAVONAROLA' 

sharp fall in dubious murmurs. The cobbler 
down c. says, in an ear-piercing whisper, l The 
love he bears us,' drops his lower jaw, nods his 
head repeatedly, and awaits in an intolerable 
state of suspense the orator's next words.] 
I am not a blameless man, 

[Some dubious murmurs.] 
Yet for that I have lov'd you passing much, 
Shall some things be forgiven me. 

[Noises of cordial assent.] 
There dwells 
In this our city, known unto you all, 
A man more virtuous than I am, and 
A thousand times more intellectual ; 
Yet envy not I him, for — shall I name him ? — 
He loves not you. His name ? I will not cut 
Your hearts by speaking it. Here let it stay 
On tip o' tongue. 

[Insistent clamour.] 
Then steel you to the shock ! — 
Savonarola. 

[For a moment or so the crowd reels silently 
under the shock. Cobbler down c. is the first to 
recover himself and cry ' Death to Savonarola ! * 
The cry instantly becomes general. Lor. holds 
up his hand and gradually imposes silence.] 
His twin bug-bears are 
Yourselves and that New Learning which I hold 
Less dear than only you. 

[Profound sensation. Everybody whispers ' Than 
201 



SEVEN MEN 

only you ' to everybody else. A woman near steps 
of Loggia attempts to kiss hem o/Lor.'s garment.] 
Would you but con 

With me the old philosophers of Hellas, 

Her fervent bards and calm historians, 

You would arise and say ' We will not hear 

Another word against them ! ' 

[The crowd already says this, repeatedly, with 
great emphasis.] 

Take the Dialogues 

Of Plato, for example. You will find 

A spirit far more truly Christian 

In them than in the ravings of the sour-souPd 

Savonarola. 

[Prolonged cries of ' Death to the Sour-Souled 
Savonarola ! ' Several cobblers detach themselves 
from the crowd and rush away to read the Platonic 
Dialogues. Enter Savonarola. The crowd, as he 
makes his way through it, gives up all further control 
of its feelings, and makes a noise for which even the 
best zoologists might not find a good comparison. 
The staves and bill-hooks wave like twigs in a storm. 
One would say that Sav. must have died a thousand 
deaths already. He is, however, unharmed and un- 
ruffled as he reaches the upper step of the Loggia. 
Lor. meanwhile has rejoined Cos. in the Piazza.\ 

Sav. 

Pax vobiscum, brothers ! 
[This does but exacerbate the crowd's frenzy.] 



'SAVONAROLA* 

Voice of a Cobbler 

Hear his false lips cry Peace when there is no 

Peace ! 

Sav. 

Are not you ashamed, O Florentines, 

[Renewed yells, but also some symptoms of manly 

shame.] 
That hearken'd to Lorenzo and now reel 
Inebriate with the exuberance 
Of his verbosity ? 

[The crowd makes an obvious effort to pull itself 

together.] 

A man can fool 
Some of the people all the time, and can 
Fool all the people sometimes, but he cannot 
Fool all the people all the time. 

[Loud cheers. Several cobblers clap one another 

on the back. Cries of 4 Death to Lorenzo ! ' The 

meeting is now well in hand.] 

To-day 
I must adopt a somewhat novel course 
In dealing with the awful wickedness 
At present noticeable in this city. 
I do so with reluctance. Hitherto 
I have avoided personalities. 
But now my sense of duty forces me 
To a departure from my custom of 
Naming no names. One name I must and shall 
Name. 

203 



SEVEN MEN 

[All eyes are turned on Lor., who smiles uncom- 
fortably.] 

No, I do not mean Lorenzo. He 

Is 'neath contempt. 

[Loud and prolonged laughter, accompanied with 
hideous grimaces at Lor. Exeunt Lor. and Cos.] 

I name a woman's name, 
[The women in the crowd eye one another sus- 
piciously.] 

A name known to you all — four-syllabled, 

Beginning with an L. 

[Pause. Enter hurriedly Luc, carrying the ring. 
She stands, unobserved by any one, on outskirt of 
crowd. Sav. utters the name :] 
Lucrezia ! 

Luc. [With equal intensity.] 
Savonarola ! 

[Sav. starts violently and stares in direction of 
her voice.] 

Yes, I come, I come ! 
[Forces her way to steps of Loggia. The crowd is 
much bewildered, and the cries of l Death to 
Lucrezia Borgia ! ' are few and sporadic] 
Why didst thou call me ? 

[Sav. looks somewhat embarrassed.] 
What is thy distress ? 
I see it all ! The sanguinary mob 
Clusters to rend thee ! As the antler'd stag, 
204 



'SAVONAROLA' 

With fine eyes glazed from the too-long chase, 

Turns to defy the foam-fleck'd pack, and thinks, 

In his last moment, of some graceful hind 

Seen once afar upon a mountain-top, 

E'en so, Savonarola, didst thou think, 

In thy most dire extremity, of me. 

And here I am ! Courage ! The horrid hounds 

Droop tail at sight of me and fawn away 

Innocuous. 

[The crowd does indeed seem to have fallen 
completely under the sway of Luc's magnetism, 
and is evidently convinced that it had been about 
to make an end of the monk.] 

Take thou, and wear henceforth, 

As a sure talisman 'gainst future perils, 

This little, little ring. 

[Sav. makes awkward gesture of refusal. Angry 
murmurs from the crowd. Cries of ' Take thou 
the ring ! ' ' Churl ! ' ' Put it on ! ' etc. 

Enter the Borgias' Fool and stands unnoticed 
on fringe of crowd.] 

I hoped you 'Id like it — 
Neat but not gaudy. Is my taste at fault ? 
I'd so look'd forward to — [Sob.] No, I'm not crying, 
But just a little hurt. 

[Hardly a dry eye in the crowd. Also swayings 
and snarlings indicative that Sav.'s life is again 
not worth a momenVs purchase. Sav. makes 
awkward gesture of acceptance, but just as he is 
205 



Luc. 



SEVEN MEN 

about to put ring on finger, the Fool touches his 
lute and sings : — ] 

Wear not the ring, 

It hath an unkind sting, 

Ding, dong, ding. 
Bide a minute, 
There's poison in it, 
Poison in it, 

Ding-a-dong, dong, ding. 

The fellow lies. 
[The crowd is torn with conflicting opinions. 
Mingled cries of ' Wear not the ring I ' ' The 
fellow lies ! ! c Bide a minute ! ' ' Death to the 
Fool ! ' * Silence for the Fool ! ' ' Ding-a-dong, 
dong, ding ! ' etc.] 



Fool 



[Sings.] 

Wear not the ring, 

For Death's a robber-king, 

Ding, [etc.] 
There's no trinket 
Is what you think it, 
What you think it, 

Ding-a-dong, [etc.] 

[Sav. throws ring in Luc's face. Enter Pope 
Julius II, with Papal army.] 
206 



'SAVONAROLA' 

Pope 

Arrest that man and woman ! 

[Re-enter Guelfs and Ghibellines fighting. Sav. 
and Luc. are arrested by Papal officers. Enter 
Michael Angelo. Andrea del Sarto appears 
for a moment at a window. Pippa passes. 
Brothers of the Misericordia go by, singing a 
Requiem for Francesca da Rimini. Enter Boc- 
caccio, Benvenuto Cellini, and many others, 
making remarks highly characteristic of them- 
selves but scarcely audible through the terrific 
thunderstorm which now bursts over Florence and 
is at its loudest and darkest crisis as the Curtain 
falls.] 



ACT IV 

Time : Three hours later. 

Scene : A Dungeon on the ground-floor of the 
Palazzo Civico. 

The stage is bisected from top to bottom by a wall, on 
one side of which is seen the interior of Lucrezia's 
cell, on the other that of Savonarola's. 

Neither he nor she knows that the other is in the 
next cell. The audience, however, knows this. 

Each cell (because of the width and height of the 

proscenium) is of more than the average Florentine 

size, but is bare even to the point of severity, its sole 

amenities being some straw, a hunk of bread, and a 

207 



SEVEN MEN 

stone pitcher. The door of each is facing the audience. 
Dim-ish light. 

Lucrezia wears long and clanking chains on her 
wrists, as does also Savonarola. Imprisonment has 
left its mark on both of them. Savonarola's hair 
has turned white. His whole aspect is that of a very 
old, old man. Lucrezia looks no older than before, 
but Jias gone mad. 

Sav. 

Alas, how long ago this morning seems 
This evening ! A thousand thousand aeons 
Are scarce the measure of the gulf betwixt 
My then and now. Methinks I must have been 
Here since the dim creation of the world 
And never in that interval have seen 
The tremulous hawthorn burgeon in the brake, 
Nor heard the hum o' bees, nor woven chains 
Of buttercups on Mount Fiesole 
What time the sap lept in the cypresses, 
Imbuing with the friskfulness of Spring 
Those melancholy trees. I do forget 
The aspect of the sun. Yet I was born 
A freeman, and the Saints of Heaven smiled 
Down on my crib. What would my sire have said, 
And what my dam, had anybody told them 
The time would come when I should occupy 
A felon's cell ? O the disgrace of it ! — 
The scandal, the incredible come-down ! 
It masters me. I see i' my mind's eye 
208 



'SAVONAROLA' 

The public prints — c Sharp Sentence on a Monk.' 

What then ? I thought I was of sterner stuff 

Than is affrighted by what people think. 

Yet thought I so because 'twas thought of me, 

And so 'twas thought of me because I had 

A hawk-like profile and a baleful eye. 

Lo ! my soul's chin recedes, soft to the touch 

As half-churn 'd butter. Seeming hawk is dove, 

And dove's a gaol-bird now. Fie out upon 't ! 

Luc. 

How comes it ? I am Empress Dowager 

Of China — yet was never crown'd. This must 

Be seen to. 

[Quickly gathers some straw and weaves a crown, 

which she puts on.] 

Sat. 

O, what a degringolade ! 
The great career I had mapp'd out for me — 
Nipp'd i' the bud. What life, when I come out, 
Awaits me ? Why, the very Novices 
And callow Postulants will draw aside 
As I pass by, and say ' That man hath done 
Time ! ' And yet shall I wince ? The worst of Time 
Is not in having done it, but in doing 't. 

Luc. 

Ha, ha, ha, ha ! Eleven billion pig-tails 

209 o 



SEVEN MEN 

Do tremble at my nod imperial, — 
The which is as it should be. 



Sav. 

I have heard 
That gaolers oft are willing to carouse 
With them they watch o'er, and do sink at last 
Into a drunken sleep, and then's the time 
To snatch the keys and make a bid for freedom. 
Gaoler ! Ho, Gaoler ! 

[Sounds of lock being turned and bolts withdrawn. 

Enter the Borgias' Fool, in plain clothes, carrying 

bunch of keys.] 

I have seen thy face 
Before. 

Fool 

I saved thy life this afternoon, Sir. 

Sav. 

Thou art the Borgias' Fool ? 

Fool 

Say rather, was. 
Unfortunately I have been discharg'd 
For my betrayal of Lucrezia, 
So that I have to speak like other men — 
Decasyllabically, and with sense. 
An hour ago the gaoler of this dungeon 
210 



'SAVONAROLA' 

Died of an apoplexy. Hearing which, 
I ask'd for and obtain'd his billet. 



Sav. 

Fetch 

A stoup o' liquor for thyself and me. 

[Exit Gaoler.] 

Freedom ! there's nothing that thy votaries 

Grudge in the cause of thee. That decent man 

Is doom'd by me to lose his place again 

To-morrow morning when he wakes from out 

His hoggish slumber. Yet I care not. 

[Re-enter Gaoler with a leathern bottle and two 
glasses.] 

Ho! 

This is the stuff to warm our vitals, this 

The panacea for all mortal ills 

And sure elixir of eternal youth. 

Drink, bonniman ! 

[Gaoler drains a glass and shows signs of 
instant intoxication. Sav. claps him on shoulder 
and replenishes glass. Gaoler drinks again, 
lies down on floor, and snores. Sav. snatches the 
bunch of keys, laughs long but silently, and 
creeps out on tip-toe, leaving door ajar. 
Luc. meanwhile has lain down on the straw in 
her cell, and fallen asleep. 

Noise of bolts being shot back, jangling of keys, 
grating of lock, and the door of Luc's cell flies 
open. Sav. takes two steps across the threshold, 
211 



SEVEN MEN 

his arms outstretched and his upturned face 

transfigured with a great joy.] 

How sweet the open air 
Leaps to my nostrils ! O the good brown earth 
That yields once more to my elastic tread 
And laves these feet with its remember'd dew ! 

[Takes a few more steps, still looking upwards.] 
Free ! — I am free ! O naked arc of heaven, 
Enspangled with innumerable — no, 
Stars are not there. Yet neither are there clouds ! 
The thing looks like a ceiling ! [Gazes downward.] And 

this thing 
Looks like a floor. [Gazes around.] And that white 

bundle yonder 
Looks curiously like Lucrezia. 

[Luc. awakes at sound of her name, and sits up 

sane.] 
There must be some mistake. 

Luc. [Rises to her feet.] 

There is indeed ! 
A pretty sort of prison I have come to, 
In which a self-respecting lady's cell 
Is treated as a lounge ! 

Sav. 

I had no notion 
You were in here. I thought I was out there. 
I will explain — but first I'll make amends. 
Here are the keys by which your durance ends. 
212 



'SAVONAROLA' 

The gate is somewhere in this corridor, 

And so good-bye to this interior ! 

[Exeunt Sav. and Luc. Noise, a moment later, 
of a key grating in a lock, then of gate creaking on 
its hinges ; triumphant laughs of fugitives ; loud 
slamming of gate behind them. 
In Sav.'s cell the Gaoler starts in his sleep, 
turns his face to the wall, and snores more than 
ever deeply. Through open door comes a cloaked 
figure.] 



Cloaked Figure 

Sleep on, Savonarola, and awake 

Not in this dungeon but in ruby Hell ! 

[Stabs Gaoler, whose snores cease abruptly. 
Enter Pope Julius II, with Papal retinue carry- 
ing torches. Murderer steps quickly back into 
shadow.] 

Pope [To body of Gaoler.] 
Savonarola, I am come to taunt 
Thee in thy misery and dire abjection. 
Rise, Sir, and hear me out. 

Murd. [Steps forward.] 

Great Julius, 
Waste not thy breath. Savonarola's dead. 
I murder 'd him. 

213 



SEVEN MEN 

Pope 

Thou hadst no right to do so. 
Who art thou, pray ? 

Murd. 

Cesare Borgia, 
Lucrezia's brother, and I claim a brother's 
Right to assassinate whatever man 
Shall wantonly and in cold blood reject 
Her timid offer of a poison'd ring. 

Pope 

Of this anon. 

[Stands over body of Gaoler.] 
Our present business 
Is general woe. No nobler corse hath ever 
Impress'd the ground O let the trumpets speak it ! 

[Flourish of trumpets.] 
This was the noblest of the Florentines. 
His character was flawless, and the world 
Held not his parallel. O bear him hence 
With all such honours as our State can offer. 
He shall interred be with noise of cannon, 
As doth befit so militant a nature. 
Prepare these obsequies. 

[Papal officers lift body of Gaoler.] 

A Papal Officer 

But this is not 
Savonarola. It is some one else. 
214 



'SAVONAROLA' 

Cesare 

Lo ! 'tis none other than the Fool that I 

Hoof'd from my household but two hours agone. 

I deem'd him no good riddance, for he had 

The knack of setting tables on a roar. 

What shadows we pursue ! Good night, sweet Fool, 

And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest ! 



Pope 

Interred shall he be with signal pomp. 

No honour is too great that we can pay him. 

He leaves the world a vacuum. Meanwhile, 

Go we in chase of the accursed villain 

That hath made escapado from this cell. 

To horse ! Away ! We'll scour the country round 

For Sav'narola till we hold him bound. 

Then shall you see a cinder, not a man, 

Beneath the lightnings of the Vatican ! 

[Flourish, alarums and excursions, flashes of 
Vatican lightning, roll of drums, etc. Through 
open door of cell is led in a large milk-white 
horse, which the Pope mounts as the Curtain 
falls.] 



Remember, please, before you formulate your 

impressions, that saying of Brown's : ' The thing 

must be judged as a whole.' I like to think that 

whatever may seem amiss to us in these Four Acts 

215 



SEVEN MEN 

of his would have been righted by collation with 
that Fifth which he did not live to achieve. 

I like, too, to measure with my eyes the yawning 
gulf between stage and study. Very different from 
the message of cold print to our imagination are the 
messages of flesh and blood across footlights to our 
eyes and ears. In the warmth and brightness of a 
crowded theatre ' Savonarola ' might, for aught one 
knows, seem perfect. ' Then why,' I hear my gentle 
readers asking, ' did you thrust the play on us, and 
not on a theatrical manager ? ' 

That question has a false assumption in it. In 
the course of the past eight years I have thrust 
4 Savonarola ' on any number of theatrical managers. 
They have all of them been (to use the technical 
phrase) ' very kind.' All have seen great merits in 
the work ; and if I added together all the various 
merits thus seen I should have no doubt that 
1 Savonarola ' was the best play never produced. 
The point on which all the managers are unanimous 
is that they have no use for a play without an 
ending. This is why I have fallen back, at last, on 
gentle readers, whom now I hear asking why I did 
not, as Brown's literary executor, try to finish the 
play myself. Can they never ask a question without 
a false assumption in it ? I did try, hard, to finish 
* Savonarola.' 

Artistically, of course, the making of such an 
attempt was indefensible. Humanly, not so. It is 
clear throughout the play — especially perhaps in 
216 



'SAVONAROLA' BROWN 

Acts III and IV — that if Brown had not steadfastly 
in his mind the hope of production on the stage, he 
had nothing in his mind at all. Horrified though 
he would have been by the idea of letting me kill 
his Monk, he would rather have done even this than 
doom his play to everlasting unactedness. I took, 
therefore, my courage in both hands, and made out 
a scenario. . . 

Dawn on summit of Mount Fiesole. Outspread 
view of Florence (Duomo, Giotto's Tower, etc.) as seen 
from that eminence. — Niccolo Machiatelli, asleep 
on grass, wakes as sun rises. Deplores his exile from 
Florence, Lorenzo's unappeasable hostility, etc. 
Wonders if he could not somehow secure the Pope's 
favour. Very cynical. Breaks off: But who are 
these that scale the mountain-side ? | Savonarola 
and Lucrezia | Borgia ! — Enter through a trap-door, 
back c. [trap-door veiled from audience by a grassy 
ridge], Sav. and Luc. Both gasping and footsore 
from their climb. [Still, with chains on their wrists ? 
or not?] — Mach. steps unobserved behind a cypress 
and listens. — Sav. has a speech to the rising sun — Th' 
effulgent hope that westers from the east | Daily. 
Says that his hope, on the contrary, lies in escape To 
that which easters not from out the west, | That 
fix'd abode of freedom which men call | America ! 
Very bitter against Pope. — Luc. says that she, for her 
part, means To start afresh in that uncharted land | 
Which austers not from out the antipod, | Australia ! 
217 



SEVEN MEN 

— Exit Mach., unobserved, down trap-door behind 
ridge, to betray Luc. and Sav. — Several longish 
speeches by Sav. and Luc. Time is thus given for 
Mach. to get into touch with Pope, and time for Pope 
and retinue to reach the slope of Fiesole. Sav., 
glancing down across ridge, sees these sleuth-hounds, 
points them out to Luc. and cries Bewray'd ! Luc. 
By whom ? Sav. I know not, but suspect | The 
hand of that sleek serpent Niccolo | Machiavelli. — 
Sav. and Luc. rush down c, but find their way barred 
by the footlights. — Luc. We will not be ta'en | Alive. 
And here availeth us my lore | In what pertains to 
poison. Yonder herb | [points to a herb growing 
down R.] Is deadly nightshade. Quick, Monk ! 
Pluck we it ! — Sav. and Luc. die just as Pope 
appears over ridge, followed by retinue in full cry. — 
Pope's annoyance at being foiled is quickly swept 
away on the great wave of Shakespearean chivalry and 
charity that again rises in him. He gives Sav. a 
funeral oration similar to tlie one meant for him in 
Act IV, but even more laudatory and more stricken. 
O/Luc, too, he enumerates the virtues, and hints that 
the whole terrestrial globe shall be hollowed to receive 
her bones. Ends by saying : In deference to this 
our double sorrow | Sun shall not shine to-day nor 
shine to-morrow. — Sun drops quickly back behind 
eastern horizon, leaving a great darkness on which the 
Curtain slowly falls. 

All this might be worse, yes. The skeleton 
218 



'SAVONAROLA' BROWN 

passes muster. But in the attempt to incarnate 
and ensanguine it I failed wretchedly. I saw that 
Brown was, in comparison with me, a master. 
Thinking I might possibly fare better in his method 
of work than in my own, I threw the skeleton into 
a cupboard, sat down, and waited to see what 
Savonarola and those others would do. 

They did absolutely nothing. I sat watching 
them, pen in hand, ready to record their slightest 
movement. Not a little finger did they raise. Yet 
I knew they must be alive. Brown had always told 
me they were quite independent of him. Absurd 
to suppose that by the accident of his own death 
they had ceased to breathe. . . Now and then, 
overcome with weariness, I dozed at my desk, and 
whenever I woke I felt that these rigid creatures 
had been doing all sorts of wonderful things while 
my eyes were shut. I felt that they disliked me. I 
came to dislike them in return, and forbade them 
my room. 

Some of you, my readers, might have better luck 
with them than I. Invite them, propitiate them, 
watch them ! The writer of the best Fifth Act 
sent to me shall have his work tacked on to 
Brown's ; and I suppose I could get him a free 
pass for the second night. 



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